Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-three

Athletes know it. The ancient Greeks knew it. Soldiers know it. St. Benedict knew it. Being comfortable makes you soft. My definition of soft is the inability of something to keep its shape. When I think of something soft, I think of something that is malleable. I think of something that cannot withstand the influence of an outside pressure. The opposite of soft isn't hard, it's strong or reinforced. So what I'm talking about isn't stubbornness or inflexibility. It's the ability to remain in a shape that was exactly intended.

When we get comfortable, we let up on the pressure that requires us to be strong. When astronauts are in space, their muscles weaken from disuse. When athletes are in the off season, they get out of shape. When the mind stops a certain activity for a certain period of time, it begins to forget how to do it. Sitting on the couch and watching sitcoms can make us soft in mind and body.

On the other hand, what makes something or someone strong. Metal becomes stronger when it is heated or struck. Our muscles become strong by heavy lifting. Our lungs and heart become strong through conditioning. Fibers become strong when they are woven tightly. Being placed in uncomfortable scenarios are what make us strong. Difficult activities make us strong.

Think about all the things that are difficult that we avoid. Exercise, weightlifting, dieting, calculus, meditation are some of the things off the top of my head, that I avoid. It's not our fault really. We're hardwired that way. We seek pleasure and avoid pain. We strive constantly to make ourselves comfortable. Look around your house and notice all the things that you've acquired to make yourself comfortable. Pretty much everything, right? Our thermostat, couches, microwave, refrigerator, carpets, drawers full of soft socks and pajamas are all there for our comfort. Comfort is so important to us in this modern age. We even tend to search for comfort mentally too. We don't like challenging ourselves. We don't like being uncomfortable. I often think about how much discomfort came with playing football. Your head hurts from your helmet, you carry around 15 pounds of pads, coaches yell at you constantly, the season starts in the hottest, muggiest part of the year and ends when it's freezing out, you play in rain and snow, you get cuts and bruises and injuries, you are constantly hitting someone or being hit, or falling to the ground. Despite all this, there isn't a single person that has played football that wouldn't go back in a second. The most telling part is that everyone who has played will tell you they are a better person for it. That all of life's later challenges seem somewhat easier to handle because of the rigors of the sport.

So what was the point of that long analogy? It's to demonstrate that we must remove ourselves from our comfort zone if we are going to succeed at anything. Kelly doesn't pull any punches here. Self-discipline is hard work. Choosing to deny ourselves anything can be difficult when everything is so easy to attain. Why give up anything? The truth is that making yourself uncomfortable is discipline, and discipline is what makes us strong. A disciplined soul is ready for the next challenge. An undisciplined soul is soft and it takes time to get it back in to shape before it can meet the challenge. So there it is. Denial is practice. Sacrifice is training. Doing uncomfortable things is the proving ground that makes us ready when life gives us real challenges. When we remove the "mental pillows", we can see them as impediments for becoming the person we really want to be. We can be strong when the external forces of the world try to shape us into something we don't want.

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-Two

Hannah Arendt wrote a book call The Origins of Totalitarianism. In it, she describes a concept of the banality of evil. Banality simply means that things become common when we see them every day. Our chores or our commute to work are examples of something banal. She uses this to describe a number of Nazi officers. They were able to psychologically turn something as evil as genocide into an every day chore or work activity. They saw people as numbers to be processed and cataloged. They were just "paper pushers".

Kelly says at the end of the chapter that it may be hard to read, that we may want to put the book down. It's the opposite for me. When I read about sin, I can treat it academically. I have no problem reading about how sin is letting something become God and me. I don't bat an eyelash when I'm reminded that Jesus suffered and died for my sin. Why? Because I've put into a place that's completely objective. I know these facts already. It's not until I'm in the moment where I'm confronted with sin, either when temptation is getting the better of me or that I really think about my sins, that it becomes real. Just like the Nazi officers, I can rationalize my sinning. I can put it in a place far away from my inner-self and just reflect on it. Sinning becomes so normal for me that I can just chalk it up to all the other times I have failed to live up to God's expectations.

So where's the breaking point? Where is the "real problem" to which Kelly is referring? I think he nails it on the head when he says, "Sin and evil are real." It becomes and existential problem. Don't get me wrong. Reading this book is good. Reflecting on my past behaviors are good. Being sorry for my sins is good. Wanting to be closer to Jesus is good. But they are good only in that they strengthen my will to be good in the moment. We all have choices to make, but the choice Jesus cares about is the one we are making right now. While you're reading this, you're probably not sinning. You are choosing to move closer to Christ. But later, we will be barraged with multiple temptations. We'll have a choice to pause and thank God before we eat dinner. We'll be on the internet and have a choice to click on something we shouldn't. We'll be challenged by our children or spouse and we'll have a choice whether to react with love or with anger. That is when sin is real. The previous activities I listed are preparing us for those moments. When we pray, read, reflect, and fast, we are putting on our armor to gird ourselves for the times when we are tempted. That is when sin becomes real, when it is right in front of us. We are constantly, in every moment, being called to choose Christ or choose something or someone else. When we begin to do the right thing, we begin to trust ourselves. We become more aware of how vital those moments are. We start to realize that what we do has a real impact on our happiness. We start to see sin for what it is, a real thing that's only purpose is to separate us from God's love.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty-One

Matthew Kelly kept referencing "the prodigal son" as the biblical lesson that illustrates how God's way is so different from ours. I kept coming back to one that I think almost everyone has a problem wrapping their brain around. It's the parable of the hired workers. To refresh your memory, a plantation owner hires some laborers to work the harvest for an agreed upon amount. Later he finds more laborers and hires them. Even later, he find more laborers and hires them. At the end of the day, he pays everyone the same wages. Well, the fellas that have been working all day were incensed. They couldn't believe that the guys that worked half a day got paid as much as them.

Now there is, I think, a more obvious interpretation of this. God's love is infinite, so you can't parcel it out. All our God's children and those who love him will be rewarded with eternity with him in heaven. Jesus also tells us that he sows everywhere. This could be read as a heads up for the Jewish followers of Christ that the Gentiles will soon be joining their fold, later in the game.

Here's the more difficult interpretation of this parable. That we need to grow up. We need to move beyond the very human, but very childish behavior of selfishness. Kelly calls it greed. Here's where he and I differ. He talks about greed as wanting to hold on to what someone believes is theirs, or that they are stingy. I see selfishness reflecting something different in our character. It's the "I want what's coming to me" mentality. I'm thinking of an example of a kid who is happy that he got a slice of cake until he notices that another kid got a bigger slice of cake. Some people are the kid that is mad that another got another piece of cake at all! Why do we resent what other people have? Why do we feel unappreciative the minute we feel inadequate? I work just as hard as Bill next door, how come he can he afford a new SUV? I can't believe the boss worked with Joe to change his schedule and let him off the hook again!

Why do we care so much about what others receive? What does this has to do with us? In the big picture, nothing. Scientists and sociologists think we are hardwired through genetics to take inventory of what others have, that it provided some sort of evolutionary advantage to our ancestors. I could buy that somewhat. I guess if I'm eating bark and some other hominid walks by eating a grape, I'd be like, "Man, forget this bark, I need to figure how to get my hands on that!" And so, I'm pushed to find a more nutritious, higher calorie food source, even though I was sustained on the bark. Well, what's wrong with that, you might be asking. There's nothing wrong with competition or wanting to better oneself. We just have to realize that is a very human trait, with very limited satisfaction. If every time we ask what we want for ourselves, the answer is "better" or "more"; we'll never be able to satisfy ourselves. There is only one striving for more that can do that. And that's striving to be more like Jesus. God works in ways that are counter-intuitive to human "common sense". While we are giving up behaviors in order to be closer to him, he fills us with love. Every time we empty ourselves, it makes more room for grace to fill our souls. So when we can choose our way versus God's way, we have to remember that His way may not always be so obvious, because our humanity can make divinity seem like opposite of the world says is positive.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirty

Not Leonard Cohen

In Leonard Cohen's song Suzanne, he sings,

Jesus was a sailor, when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men shall be sailors then until the sea shall free them

This stanza has always resonated with me. How fruitless it is to have a Savior, if we don't think we need to be saved! We create this first-person world. We invent a story that always has us as the protagonist. Even when we're miserable and totally hate ourselves, we're still proud, aren't we? We internalize our self-doubt and self-loathing. We wear it like some badge of courage. We change the narrative of the story so we can come out the winner.

I almost had to put the book down when Matthew Kelly said one of his blind spots was wanting to be liked. It got me right between the eyes, man. It's one of my greatest traps. I hate upsetting people. I love going with the flow if it means I can avoid ending up on someones "enemies list". I lose sleep if I find out that someone doesn't like me, even if that person is a random acquaintance. Why does that bother me so much? Because it changes my narrative. Now my story includes someone, who for some reason has a distaste for me or something I do. Whoa! How could somebody not like me? Every chapter I've written about myself, has me as awesome.

Kelly calls it blind spots. I call it being willfully ignorant. Blind spots sound so innocuous, so minor. I think it paints a much darker picture of me as a whole person that I let my pride get in the way of being loved. Because Jesus loves me for who I am, not who I portray myself to be. Some day, we're all going to be called to look into a mirror and see the real us. I hope that day comes when I can still change my real story and not when it's too late to reread those poorly written chapters.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Nine

I don't know who to attribute the quote to, but someone at sometime said something like this: I'll take up jogging when I see a runner that looks like he is enjoying himself. It's true, right? Runners say they love running, but it never looks like they're having a good time.

What a parallel to Christianity! The outside impression of the Church is that it is oppressive, that religion is an obligation, there are so many rules. It makes believers miserable.

But Jesus challenged us to be happy! Can you believe it? Happy! The nerve! I think most Catholics have set themselves that they just don't want to go to hell. So we do the bare minimum and try to stay out of trouble in hopes that on the day that we're called home, we can sneak in. The Bible tells us something completely different though.

David danced before the Lord. The psalms tell us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. The Mass isn't "held" or "administered" or "said", it's CELEBRATED! Do you feel like you are going to a celebration when you attend mass? Many times I look around at somber or, dare I say, bored expressions. A large group of people wondering how long Father is going to talk for, or counting the pews until they can receive communion and bolt for the door. Think about going to a concert of your favorite artist. Does the crowd head for the exit with two songs left to play. No! They scream at the top of their lungs for an encore! They want to hold on to every last second. They wish that last note will linger just long enough for them to breathe in that last breath of excitement. Why don't we approach our faith that way? We have access to the true source of happiness! We get to be a witness to the great miracle that is the sacrifice of the mass! Just like going to the concert, it is not easy though. Going to a live event involves dealing with parking, crowds, security gates, uncomfortable seats and then traffic leaving.

But as Matthew Kelly points out, what if we all acted like real Christians? What if we gave up seeking false idols? What if we stopped pursuing worldly riches? What if we learned to be merciful instead of judgmental? What if we really believed in the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us? What if we really loved God and each other with all our hearts?

Those are a lot of big questions. I don't know if I can even begin to imagine a world like that. But let's dare to imagine. Let's try in some small way to get rid of the things that are keeping us from being happy. Through Jesus we have been given an immense power to experience joy. God made us with the capacity to be fully happy and in love. It's not easy to change. It's not an easy road to give up the sins we have become so comfortable with. It's not easy, but it is possible; and the rewards are immense.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Eight

 While this is a long chapter, I don't feel much of a need to embellish upon it. What I will say is that prayer becomes second nature once we start to practice it. We start to see all the places where we can use prayer effectively. It becomes a tool, something we keep in our pocket because it is so effective. You have prayer at your disposal whenever you want it. I like to pull it out of my pocket when I have a decision to make or I feel myself being overwhelmed. It quiets the mind. It sets our priorities straight. It puts things into perspective. So take some time now to think about the little prayers that Matthew Kelly talks about. Build up your toolbox of small prayers to have at the ready when you need them most. Checking in with God when you need him will change your life in very dramatic ways. I'm going to keep this short in hopes you will use the next couple minutes in trying on some spontaneous prayer. Go ahead.

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Seven

Ah, good o'l self-denial. It's become such a dirty word in our culture. We live in a world where we have everything at our fingertips. I know I have a hard time even refraining from checking my Facebook account or email every 5 minutes. Why deny yourself anything? Especially, when it's not something bad. Having a snack never killed anyone. Flipping on the tub when you're bored never hurt anyone.

Here's something I've learned in my short time here on earth: self-denial = self-discipline. So what does that mean? I take the word discipline very seriously. Not in the sense of punishment, but being in control. Discipline is mastery of ourselves. It's having a mind strong enough to do what I want, not what my body is telling me what I want. If you read any biography, you'll find that successful people have a knack for being able to tell the difference. I want to sleep in, but what I really want requires me to get out of bed. I want to eat that extra piece of cake, but what I really want is to be fit. I want to flirt with every girl on the planet, but what I really want is to be in a loving, meaningful relationship. We can start to see the difference between our wants and what we really want. Most of the time, getting what we really want out of life means sacrificing what we want in the moment.

How do we get good at this? Well, it takes practice. If we do the little things, it will eventually lead to the big things. As we've discussed before, accomplishing big tasks is really just a path of doing the small things. So, while it may not seem like a big deal to procrastinate on doing the laundry, we are creating a pattern of procrastination. If we can't say no to the little things, how are we going to fare when we ask ourselves to refrain form the big things?

There is a reason that fasting and alms giving are so closely tied to prayer. They are all processes that we can utilize to practice being a true disciple. The words themselves, discipline and disciple, are so similar. They both take practice. They both require doing things on a regular basis. As Matthew Kelly points out, start with small denials, and eventually we can take control of our desires and bend them to our will. You'll be in the driver's seat with your passions and not the other way around.

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Six

No one came to the parish center for their 5 bucks. I'm guessing that means that everyone found something new when they opened the Bible, or that they didn't bother reading the Bible. I'm praying fervently that it is the former.

Anyway, on to the next chapter. As you've figured out by now I like to use the analogy of spiritual development to physical development. I haven't exercised in a while.Now that I'm home watching the boys during the day, I just don't have the opportunity to go to the gym. I keep saying to myself, "When I have a minute, I'll do it." The problem is that when that minute happens, I'm either too tired or it's just not a good time. I think the same things happens for most of us with prayer. We have every intention of praying, but we just don't get around to it. Life happens, we're tired, there's something good on TV. When we really want to prioritize something, we carve out time for it. That's where we need to start. I don't need to go to the gym to exercise, but it helps. It helps because I am in a place where exercising is what you do. I've always preferred gyms that don't have a lot of extras. Just weights and treadmills and steppers. I like it because there are no distractions. If the gym has a juice bar or a sauna, I'd most likely be wasting precious time doing something other than exercising. The same holds true for prayer. Treat yourself to a quiet place and a quiet time. Somewhere you only use for praying. That way you've freed yourself of the distractions. Get away from the TV, your smartphone, the kids, whatever can interrupt your conversation with Jesus.

I like using working out as my analogy. Use whatever analogy you want for when you do something where you want to concentrate or have "me time". Some people have a "sacred thing", a time when you do just that thing. Lying in a hammock, that first cup of coffee, reading the paper, taking a shower are a couple of ideas of times when I just want to be. I don't want to facebook or balance my checkbook, or write a shopping list, I just want that ever so precious "me time". I know you have it. Think really hard. Maybe it doesn't happen all that often, but there are times when you don't want any disruption or distraction. Now move that thought to what effective prayer time looks like.

Coming back to the exercise analogy, people that see results have a process. No one goes to the gym and thinks, "I'll just do the first exercise that pops into my head." For me personally, I warm up on the treadmill, stretch, do wait training for a specific muscle group, do a set time of cardio, and then stretch again. it works for me. It keeps me on target for what I want to achieve. Matthew Kelly shows us that prayer is no different. Effect prayers, the ones that see results, have a method. He gives seven steps. Maybe as you move forward you'll find that you can fine tune the process, but he gives a great place to start. As we see, he didn't just make this up. He's taken the actual practice of those that have been able to sustain a powerful prayer life. I've designed my workouts to help me achieve what I want, but I had to start somewhere. I followed other's routines until I learned how my body responds to different approaches. Our souls are no different. Don't find what works for you first! Do someone else's routine until you have mastered prayer time enough to tinker with it. Trying to find what works for you first will only lead to frustration. I'm telling you this as one who as tried this approach. Trust in the process and it will yield results. Most importantly, just try. I doubt you will find it lacking in results.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Five

I love Matthew Kelly's analogy of the vaccine. Now that my job is faith formation, I'm becoming quite familiar with the major problem with Catholic participation. We think we know our faith. The majority of us stopped learning about our faith some time in our youth. Sixth grade confirmation, eighth grade Catholic school graduation, and Catholic high school graduation all mark a line where most of us stopped. Even with all of the education, we rarely spent any of that time reading the Bible. I don't think it's an unfair stereotype that Catholics aren't big Bible readers. We love the mass, the rosary, even EWTN, but we don't read the Bible much. As least not as much as a lot of our Christian counterparts.

Here's the big problem. It's the source document. It's the place where the rest of our faith is derived from. The liturgy, our mass, all comes from the Bible, not just readings. The prayers in the rosary and almost all of the mysteries are derived directly from events in the Bible. I couldn't imagine walking into a college class and the professor telling you that you are going to only read things that interpret the subject and not the actual original piece of literature or thought. Could you imagine your response if you joined a book club and the organizer told you that you weren't actually going to read Tuesdays with Morrie, but a bunch of magazine articles that reference the book and a critical review? You'd walk out, is what you'd do.

Here's the other big problem too. We, as Catholics, think we get to hear the Bible at Sunday mass.

First, how amazing is this chart? Here you have it. Every part of the Bible and how much of it as read at mass. Before Vatican II is striking! 1% of the Old Testament. You might be looking at it and thinking well 71.5% isn't bad. Here's the catch, that's only if you go to mass every day for THREE YEARS! If you're a regular Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation guy, like myself, you're only hearing 57% percent of the Gospels. That's just over half. We're missing half of the Gospel. Half of what Jesus said and did! The Church's plan obviously isn't to give us our fill of the Bible on Sunday alone.
If you'd like to see a more in-depth chart, that shows the percentage for each book of the Bible, you can click here: Lectionary Statistics.

This brings me to my last problem. As I said a couple posts ago, the Bible is alive. It is the Breath of God. It isn't just words on a page. They speak to us. It will speak to you in a different way depending on what you need to hear. The Wedding Feast of Cana has changed meaning for me at least 4 different times that I've read it. Reading it as a teenager, as a college student, as a newlywed, and now has all impacted me much differently every time. So if you think you know the Bible, or how the stories go, or what was really said, try it. I guarantee you'll be surprised. If you take my challenge and I'm wrong, come to the Parish Center and I'll give you five bucks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Four

The first time I read this book, I felt completely energized. Matthew Kelly was hitting on all cylinders. It was if everything he wrote was penned just for me to read it. I couldn't wait to start on my new life with Jesus. One problem, I had no clue how to do it. I've had years of training in Catholic school. Studied philosophy in college and graduate school. I attended mass every Sunday and was involved in our men's gospel reflection group. I really thought I was on a journey to living closer with Christ. The pivotal point was that I kept asking, "Why do all of Kelly's points resonate so strongly then? Shouldn't I be reading this in the rear view mirror? I still have a long way to go." What a relief to get to this chapter! I kept thinking that one day you wake up and it all makes sense. You accept Jesus and the next morning you are St. Teresa of Avila. 

I'm guessing you have been going through some of the same roller coaster moments. Matthew Kelly probably understands this and finally gives us something practical to put our minds at ease. At first, it felt like I was standing at the starting line of a marathon. How the heck am I going to run 26.2 miles? I can't even walk 26 miles. But then, aha! No one starts in a marathon on their first day off of the couch. Maybe some of you are lucky enough to already be a jogger, you've run the spiritual equivalent of a 5K. I'll tell you though, I've run an actual 5K, even the most casual runner can pretty quickly get themselves up to a decent pace for 3 miles. Page 115 makes it so simple. I guess Kelly couldn't have put it at the beginning of the book because we needed context. One runs differently when they know they are running 3 miles to train for a 3 mile event. When you know you're preparing for greater things, you run with a different kind of purpose. So here it is:

1. Read the Four Gospels: I can do that! I've read Lord of the Rings, for goodness sake! The gospels in total are like 170 pages, in the large print edition! Piece of cake.

2. Practice the Prayer Process: Alright, that's chapter 26. But hey, I can cook mac and cheese. I have built model planes. I know how to follow directions. Follow a process, check.

3. Deny Yourself: Find a handful of small denials. Skipping the afternoon snack. Got it.

4. Practice Spontaneous Prayer: It turns out this isn't invoking the names of the members of the Holy Family when someone cuts me off on Woodbourne Road. Kelly say talk to Jesus about my day. Again, this doesn't sound all that hard. I complain to people about my day all the time.

I flipped over to page 116. I flipped back again. That's it? That's all I have to do?! Boy, Jesus sure makes it easy to start following him. Why the heck did I wait this long to start?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Three

Be open. What's preventing you from making yourself available to God? These are two really deep statements that we're presented with at the end of the chapter. Matthew Kelly starts by saying that Jesus will turn things upside-down. I feel more comfortable thinking about Jesus turning things rightside-up. We're the ones who have gotten it turned upside-down. What does it mean though to have one's life turned upside-down? Usually we think of that in terms of a tragedy or a "rock-bottom" moment. How many of us have had our lives flipped on its head? From my own experience, it's usually not too pleasant. It can be an event or an insight or a person. And here we are asking that of Jesus! Please turn my life upside-down! Who's ready for that kind of shake up? But that is the crux of the matter. Sometimes we get things in our lives so turned around that the only way to correct it is to pull a complete 180.

Do you want to know what the most reassuring part is to so scary of a prospect. Jesus is behind us. He's been following you the whole way as you've walked in the wrong direction. You don't have to walk that wrong path backwards the same distance you originally headed down it. I picture Jesus, in this moment, like some kind of divine trail guide. He's there waiting for us to turn around and ask directions. And he's going to say, "The right path is right here. Let me show you." What a wonderful shepherd! he knows exactly what we need to do to return to the flock. He's given us explicit instructions. He's given us an exquisite map. And he's right here waiting to help us interpret it. Our compass is our heart. Jesus is due north. The scriptures are our map. When we put those three things together, we can't get lost. Being upside-down isn't so bad when it gives us a new perspective, when we thought we were lost.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-Two

I love to use exercise and sports analogy for spirituality. On one hand, I get sports, so it helps frame something that is hard to understand. On the other hand, both involve training or practice, so the analogies usually work really well. In chapter 22, Kelly talks about the difference between tweaking and transformation. I have often struggled with the concept of what the difference is. Can't we have small transformations, changing just a little?

I think of it like this. Swimsuit season is coming up rather soon. I'd like to drop a couple pounds, maybe tone up some "beach muscles". I join a gym and they hit me with a full regimen.
"You'll be at bodybuilding competition level when we're done with you!" they exclaim.
My response is, "Whoa, slow down a minute, I just wanted to drop a couple pounds."
"It doesn't work that way. Our equipment and routines only work when they are used to the fullest. If you do any other kind of workout or deviate from the routine, you won't gain anything."
"We'll give you your money back and you can walk away, but we don't think it'll work for you unless you're in all the way."

In order to attain that physique, you have to watch what you eat, how many hours you sleep, balance your weightlifting with cardio in the right ways, take supplements, have a medical trainer, and mentally challenge yourself to work hard when you may not want to. Your life becomes centered around it. You can't be a bodybuilder 5 days out of the week. It is a full commitment. It is a total lifestyle change.

Jesus wants bodybuilders. It is a complete life change to be a true Christian. It's not something we can just do on the weekends or when we feel moved to say a prayer or pick up a bible. This is what I think is meant by a transformation rather than a "tweak". You're in or your out.

In Revelations, "I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot I will spit you out of My mouth."

Think about how awful a cold cup of coffee is. Hot coffee is good. Iced coffee is good. In between, yuck. Being a fence sitter is unattractive. A wishy-washy person drives us nuts. A fair weather friend is one we'd just as soon not have. We can begin to understand, in some small way, the frustration Jesus must feel for those who say they accept his word, but who don't really listen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty-One

Maybe you're a cradle Catholic like me, maybe you've found your way to the Catholic Church through conversion, maybe you're still struggling to develop a relationship with Jesus and discover his role in your life. Either way, I'm sure you find accounts about how people discovered the truth about Jesus to be powerful. I am always amazed at how God works so unexpectedly. Here was an atheist trying to disprove the resurrection and somehow God convinces him of his existence. Don't be fooled. This wasn't mere facts that turned this man's heart to God, this was the Holy Spirit working his will. You can't read the Gospels and not be changed. The Holy Book is so powerful. The inspired word of God does just that; it inspires us. The word itself "inspiration" has the same root as respiration. It means to breath into. The Holy Spirit, God's creating Spirit, is often referred as breath. God breathed across the water to create the world. He breathed life into Adam. We are breathed upon by the bishop when we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The words of the Bible were not just written down, they were breathed into life. Remember that the tradition of the scriptures were passed down orally before they were compiled into print in the 4th century. Speaking is an act of breathing. We form our breath into words. When we speak the truth of the gospel, we are breathing the breath that is the Holy Spirit. The words on the page are alive, they are figuratively breathing into us. They are inspiring us.

Everything Jesus did during the short time of his mission wasn't just done to fulfill a prophecy or complete God's plan of salvation. He gave us an example of how to live our lives. His Resurrection does not deviate from this mode. We are called to resurrection. To conquer death. To bring to life something inside us that we thought was dead. When we look for Jesus in the usual places we usual come up short. We are reminded in the "verse to live" from Matthew 16: You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is risen! He is not here. How often have we looked for God in something to find he is not there? How often have we tried the conventional ways of faith and still feel wanting? The dark places that we've hidden have to have light shed upon them once again. Jesus is truly our present and our future, but he is in our past also. Just as Jesus resurrected and conquered death, so are we called to resurrection. I pray that we don't let this opportunity pass us by, or that we take it lightly. Here, just past the halfway mark of the book, something wonderful is happening. Don't stop now. Don't think this is all too much, and lose heart. This is where the hard work begins. The work of making ourselves into someone new. Remaking ourselves in the image and likeness of God.

Rediscover Jesus: Twenty

Bishop Robert Barron just posted on youtube a movie commentary on Bridge of Spies. You can click that if you want to watch it, but I'll give you the meat and potatoes right here. In the video, Bishop Barron talks about Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. He points at that people become virtuous by following the example of someone whom is already virtuous. If you want to act bravely, emulate someone who is brave until you become brave yourself. Being virtuous isn't just doing good things, it is making part of your character. It is making part of who you are. Anyone can put a basketball through the hoop with luck, but it takes years of making that same shot over and over again that makes someone a basketball player.

The same holds true for love. It actually reminds me of another philosophical work, Plato's Symposium. He explains how love works very similar to how Kelly does. We start with familial love, the love of our parents. We then recognize love for our friends and those outside the family. We then have the awakening that is romantic love. This has two stages. The first is physical love, where we love another for their beauty or sense of humor, something that is a trait of theirs. Then we move to the second part where we love the person; not anything about them, but they themselves. In this world, we can then move onto Agape or sacrificial love. This is the love where we move away from us being the center of the universe. Up until this point love was always something we did for ourselves, or our own gratification. Eventually, that love becomes so powerful, it radiates outward. The center is no longer where the strength of the love resides, but it's in the people that we love. Plato goes further on to talk about love being a thing until itself and the world of Forms, where perfect love exists. We don't need to go that far though. Plato lived before Jesus. We have Jesus to show us what the embodiment of perfect love looks like. Before Jesus, we had to go through this kind of initiation to understand love. Jesus pulls back the curtain though. He takes us right to the heart of what it's like to see pure love.

This is truly radical. There's nothing temperate or gradual about it. Here it is. Here's what love is. Take it or leave it. Just like the Jesus question, we can't pretend it doesn't exist or that we can somehow write our own Letter to the Corinthians and redefine love for ourselves. You either love with abandon or you don't love at all. If you love conditionally, then you aren't really loving. You're doing something else that looks and feels a lot like love, but it's just a shadow of love.

Rediscover Jesus: Nineteen

Miracles are tricky. Not doing them, understanding them. I spent the better part of a semester in a Philosophy of Religion class just trying to define what a miracle is. We never even got to deciding whether miracles actually exist, why they happen, why they don't happen, what qualifies as a miracle, the list goes on. We could spend a lifetime really trying to understand miracles. Here's something that I think I was able to take away from that class. Miracles are not when the impossible happens, it's when the improbable happens. Now, yes, I know all things are possible with God. But I also believe that an omnibenevolent (perfectly good) God wouldn't create a universe with rules just so he could break them. I won't bore you with me delving any deeper into this philosophical exposition. I'll jump right to the conclusion. None of Jesus' miracles, though very unlikely and amazing, are impossible: people recover from sicknesses, people have come back from the dead, we've split the atom, we can communicate nearly instantaneously with anyone, anywhere all over the world. All of these are pretty miraculous when you think about it. And that's the crux of the whole matter, it's what we think about it. The definition of a miracle is based on how you define your expectation. An event being inexplicable is not what makes it a miracle. It's unexpectedness does. A person's life being saved in and Emergency Room doesn't strike us as a miracle, because it happens every day. Someone letting you merge on the NJ Turnpike may be viewed as a miracle because it's such a rare thing to witness.

I'm not as good at getting to the point as Matthew Kelly. I spent that paragraph trying to logically set up this point. You are a miracle worker. Jesus' miracles were mostly healing, feeding and comforting. We can do all of those things. Something that may seem like a very small act to you, may be the equivalent to making the sun dance in the sky for someone else. Let's go back to the beginning of the book. Has anyone ever mistaken you for Jesus? An easier question is, "Has anyone ever said that you were sent by God?". I've heard that maybe only a handful of times. I always really thought of it as a sort of euphemism. Something akin to being in the nick of time. But if we step back, we start to realize that there are miracles all around us. Miracles aren't just unexpected, they have to come from God. So God may call us to say a kind word to someone who may not have had someone even look at them for a week. God may ask us to share a meal to someone who has never known the luxury of knowing from where their next meal is coming. You may be asked to be the voice for someone who hasn't found their own. To those people, you are a miracle. You may be the most unlikely thing that they thought could happen. That's powerful.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Eighteen

This is certainly a timely chapter.We're all in midst of a post-Powerball hangover. For a couple days we were all millionaires (dare I say BILLIONAIRES?!). What were your thoughts? I found myself even reading articles about whether it's better to take the lump sum or the annuity. I dreamt about what I would do with the money. Paying things off like mortgages, student loans and credit cards danced in my head like visions of sugarplums. Why do we love money so much? Obviously, this is the opposite of what Jesus prioritized. I don't want to speak for you, but when I really think about it, I have so much. Obviously, I think about things that can't be bought: my family, my health, my peace of mind. But even materially I have so much: a warm home, a pantry and fridge full of food, reliable transportation.There are so many that have more than we do. How plentiful your bounty is has a lot to do with your attitude. Deep down, I don't think Jesus teaching is to give up everything, but it's to give up our attachment to things. Could I still be happy without a big back yard, or two cars, or a closet full of decent clothes? I hope I could. I often think about Thoreau's Walden Pond. Would I be happier if I gave up all the things that unnecessary? Could I find more fulfillment if I lived more deliberately? There's the real point. Am I living deliberately? Am I living without being fettered by all of these things I surround myself with? Yesterday, I talked about surrounding ourselves with people out of a sense of purpose. Perhaps, we should turn our focus to those things we surround ourselves with too.

Kelly quotes Mother Theresa, "We should live simply, so that others may simply live." We do have a moral responsibility with how we spend our money. In a money driven world, how we use our dollars does have powerful implications. Do we donate more than we spend on extras? Is an all-inclusive vacation more important then the people waiting on us making a decent living? Buying things made in China or third-world countries supports a system that takes advantage of the poor. Eating cheaply made, processed food has an impact on our health and on the environment. Sometimes, we even spend money just to make life more convenient. So here's the question staring us in the face:Can I live without some conveniences and comforts in order to make the world a better place? It's not a huge inconvenience to pare down your food amount to buy more expensive organic locally sourced food. It will have an almost unnoticeable effect to wear last year's fashion, or to donate an excess of clothes to those with no coat.

I'm thinking about all the good I imagined doing with my Powerball windfall. I'm trying to now picture all the people's lives I wanted to impact with my millions, and thinking about how I can still impact them with the riches with which I've already been blessed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Seventeen

(en espanol)
Who do we surround ourselves with? We live in such a connected world. Social media has allowed us to be in the lives of so many people. I think about what my circle of contact was like when I was in high school and even college, before texting, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I remember my circles being much smaller. I was influenced by a much smaller group of people on a daily basis. Now I have access to people I wouldn't normally stay in touch with. People tend to share so much more and be more blunt on social media. My regular face to face interactions usually don't comprise of talking about political beliefs and religious leanings. It's usually much more practical and polite. I often ask myself what the price is that I pay by only knowing people through these internet interactions. Are we improved by these brief, yet abundant, views into other's lives?

These large circles give us the impression of being connected. Matthew Kelly reminds us that Jesus purposefully limited his inner circle, and sought out strangers to share the word. Have we flipped this model on its head? Do we preach to the already converted? Do we aim to be liked and appreciated by those who already share our similar world views? Who are the marginalized in our world?

We get comfortable in the little world we carve out for ourselves out of the big world. We assign importance to events and opinions that we deem so. The role of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is to give us perspective. The gifts of Confirmation allow us to see not only God's plan for us, but God's plan for the whole world. Finally, when we start to align those two perspectives, we begin to see God's plan for us in his plan for the world. We are the Body of Christ. We are his hands and mouth and eyes. We are called to witness to the message of the Gospel. We make God's plan of salvation take form. So we must look for the places that need to be brought into the plan. Those places are the people who need salvation, who need to know Jesus. As I look at the four highlights at the end of this chapter, I am reminded that those I need to have a relationship are not necessarily those that I currently have a relationship with. Maybe this chapter spoke to you in a different way. For me, I see it as a calling to reconsider my circle of influence. I need to be more in control of whom I seek out and include in my world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Sixteen

(en espanol)
I'm thinking about that line from the Our Father again, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". We are called out for judging, just the same way Jesus tells us to forgive. God will be merciful to us, just as we were merciful to our fellow humans. In this same way, God will judge us that way we have judged. Judging is even worse than not forgiving. At least the unforgiven gave you a reason to be mad at them. Those we judge did nothing to us, except having the misfortune to enter our field of consciousness. Jesus will sometimes speak metaphorically or be subtle about certain teachings. Not this one! Right there in Matthew 7, and repeated in the epistle of James, "Who are you to judge?"

Indeed, who am I to judge? We have no right to be judges when our own characters are so flawed. Here's where I like to get a little deeper. Judging has everything to do with who I am. I judge in order to feel better about myself. It's so easy to ignore just how decrepit I am, when I can compare myself to others. Sure, I don't pray as much as I should, but at least I'm not like those other 80% of Catholics that don't go to mass every Sunday! Yeah, I have a tattoo, but look at that freak show over their with Chinese letters on their neck! I haven't always been the poster boy for chastity, but at least I'm not flaunting it, living in sin like that couple! I have problems in my marriage, but at least I'm not divorced. I could run out of screen space before I could finish all of those ways in which I judge other people to set a standard for myself. 

Is this really the life we're being called to live? To take account of our own moral rectitude by looking down on others? Maybe that's not why you judge others. I don't even know who's reading this for the most part. Point is, I don't know you. Jesus does though. He knows everything about you. He's knows more about you than you do. So here's my thought: Live up to his expectation. Don't worry about what your neighbor is doing, or the guy in the mall parking lot, or the family in the pew next to you that is always late to mass. Seriously, don't worry. Spoiler alert: This is the theme of this whole book! Stop worrying. There is nothing more important than having faith. And having faith is trusting. When we trust something or someone, we don't worry. Do you trust in God's divine plan and mercy to not judge others? Do you think that maybe he knows them a little better than you do? Everyone is a beloved child of God. We tend to not judge children as harshly. Kids make mistakes. Kids don't know all the rules yet. Kids haven't developed a third-person view of themselves yet. Yet Christ calls us to be like children! So let's start thinking of each other like that. I pray every day that I can see that little innocent child in everybody. It grounds me. It forces me to see that beautiful little soul inside of the person I am tempted to judge, before the world got a hold of them and turned them into whatever it is that makes me dislike them. I do it so often, at times it's almost reflexive. I want to pigeon-hole and categorize someone before I even know them. I'm going to pray the prayer at the end of the chapter. 

Jesus, make me aware just before I am about to fall into judging someone, and give me the grace to stop myself.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Fifteen

(en espanol)
English words don't always do such a great job expressing the thing they're meant to represent. Words like bad and good sound so similar. Even the word evil is kind of innocuous. The romance languages capture bad or evil so much more fully, mal or male in Spanish and Italian. It just feels in your mouth like something bad. Go ahead, say it out loud: maaaaalll. It so gutteral and harsh. You have to bring it up from the back of your throat and end it on your tongue. Mal. It's almost the sound you would make if you were truly disgusted with something. Bad and evil almost sound too polite. But English nails it with the word suffering. Just saying it makes us feel sad. Those soft consonants almost sound like a sigh. To say it makes it feel like a long drawn out sigh; it embraces the deep anguish that it embodies.

There's all kinds of suffering. We can suffer physically from a sickness, or from a lack of things. Being thirsty or hungry can definitely cause us suffering. There's emotional suffering, like the loss of a loved one or disappointment. There's also existential suffering, the pain we feel deep down when we are challenged with life's big questions. This is the suffering I'd like to concentrate on today. It's the overwhelming feeling that life isn't turning out how we want it; or that life is a series of disappointments. Just like hunger or thirst, we suffer from feeling a lack of something. Our suffering is opposite of joy or fulfillment.

The funny thing about suffering is that it isn't all bad. At least not when viewed in how Jesus suffered for our sins or how the Catholic Church teaches us about suffering. I'm drawn to an analogy that I experienced today. I took my sons for their 1 and 2 year pediatrician check ups. They both got shots. It was a painful experience for everyone involved. Obviously, for my boys that suffered through the shots. They were caused pain and don't have the capacity to understand why. The other suffering took place for my wife and me. To hear their pitiful little cries just tears the heart right out of me. But I know they have to experience this brief pain in order to avoid greater pain later. It's this analogy that helps me understand what God must feel like when we have to suffer. God wants us to be happy. He built us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It is reassuring to know that, just like my boys' shots, our suffering has purpose. It can make us better persons. It has the capacity to transform us, if we view it with the idea that suffering has meaning. If Jesus himself was called to suffer, then it must be a holy act. In the scriptures themselves, we see Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene pleading that there could be any other way to make the will of God happen. He finally realizes that it is his suffering alone to bear and take on. He realizes that although in that moment his human side wants to escape the inevitable pain of scourging and crucifixion, his divine side understands that this is the only way for humanity's salvation to occur.

I want to play one more language game. The Latin word for suffering is passus. I like that it sounds like the English word pass. It helps me realize that this too shall pass. Suffering is a temporary state. Even if it is a lifelong burden, we will not suffer when we pass on into the next world. Suffering is part of this fallen world that we currently live in. Accepting suffering in this life is our way of clarifying how wonderful heaven will be.  So embrace the moments when we are called to suffer. Don't ask God why this has to happen to me. Instead, strive to understand the role suffering plays in our growing closer to God and becoming more like his Son.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Fourteen

(en espanol)
This is a tough one for me personally. I feel a little better that Matthew Kelly says this is a constant struggle for him too. As we're deluged with all sorts of forms of media, I can't even begin to try and understand how one controls what he or she sees. Just thinking about how many times I come across images that might lead me to have thoughts centered on something less than Christ-like makes my head swim. So many of them are unintentional. My thoughts always go first to the hyper-sexuality present in almost everything. I think that is what Kelly is getting at here, but there are so many other things that can pollute the soul and detract from our ability to experience God's love. Gossip, celebrity-worship, violence, lewd comedy, all of these are soul killers.

Here's where I think this journey takes a hard turn. I love my sin. I really do. It's a hard thing to admit, but I think admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Our sin is an old, familiar friend. We can slip into like a warm bath or an old pair of broken-in sneakers. It's familiar and we've spent a lot of time custom fitting it to just how we like it. Our sin is personal, therefore it's personalized. What's the one thing that's really keeping you from rediscovering Jesus? Where's the place you've gone to try and hide from him. I think today, Matthew Kelly is hitting on something very obvious. Our sins are so easy to access. It's a slippery slope. If you lose control of what you are looking at, you'll soon lose control of what you think about, then lose control of your actions, then lose control of who you are. Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once penned, "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." This saying is quite true, but is a double-edged sword. We can sow virtues and vices. We can become a virtuous or vicious person, based on what we decide to fill our immediate conscious with. So be aware and keep your view directed at positive things, as we continue to "avoid the near occasion of sin".

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Thirteen

(en espanol)
I had a bit of fear when I first thought about taking on blogging along with this book. This is one of the chapters that gave me pause. Sometimes Matthew Kelly says things so clearly and succinctly, that to add to it would take from it; a sort of "gilding the lily" if you will.

When I read this chapter, I think of what follows in the Gospel right after Jesus tells the Pharisees of the greatest law. The immediate question then is, well, who is my neighbor? Jesus immediately answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. What we don't realize, maybe at first, is this is a direct affront to a Jewish person in that time. Samaritans were the worst of the worst to a Jew. They were half-breeds. The Jews were taught through generations to have nothing to do with them. A Good Samaritan?! No such thing!

Let's fast forward to our modern day. The modern lifestyle tends to be one of comfort. Not only physical comfort, but we like to have psychological comfort. We like familiarity. We shy away from things that make us uncomfortable. Places I avoid: hospitals, halfway houses, corners with homeless people, circuses. Why, you ask? Sick people, people with problems, people on the fringe of society, and clowns all make me very uncomfortable. I don't think Jesus has much of an opinion on the last group, but I know I'm falling short of our Lord's expectations when I avoid the other three groups. That's exactly to whom Jesus ministered! The sick, the dying, the afflicted, and the marginalized were the highlights of Jesus' healing ministry. What is our answer to Jesus' challenge? Do we donate a couple of dollars to Catholic Charities? Do we go on one of those service tourism trips?

Here's the problem. The activities of donating and limited participation are designed with us in mind. They have been masterminded by those that understand human psychology. We are given way too many venues to feel like we're helping without leaving our comfort zone. I'm not preaching to you. I'm talking to myself too. What kind of Christianity am I living? Am I happy in my pew and on my couch? What does it really mean to love my neighbor?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Twelve

(en espanol)
Do I love Osama Bin Laden? Do I love Adolf Hitler? Do I love the atheist who wants to tear down Jesus? Jesus doesn't leave us any wiggle room. He doesn't talk about conditional love or generosity or forgiveness. Matthew Kelly doesn't leave it a secret why he put this chapter right after the chapter on generosity. It takes a generous spirit to forgive. We are so blessed to be in the Year of Mercy. My focus since the announcement of the Jubilee has been on God's mercy towards me. I haven't thought about the other side of it. We aren't just being called to seek God's mercy, but to be merciful. As far as values go, we really like justice. We want to see everyone get what's coming to them. We want to be treated how we deserve. That's a scary proposition if we want God to deal with us justly instead of mercifully.

I immediately think of the Our Father. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I always read this as God forgives us, and in turn we forgive others. But look at the transitional word, "as". It's an analogy. Jesus taught us to pray by asking for God to treat us like we treat others. That's a heavy order. Do I really want to be judged by God how I judge others? I sure hope on my day of reckoning, that I am standing before a merciful God.We sin against each other so much. In what we have done, and in what we have failed to do. We ask others time and time again to forgive us, to love us, to pray for us. These same people that we have wronged, we petition to pray for us. What gall!

My sincere hope is that we take this Jubilee Year seriously. That we take inventory of the grudges we still hold, of those people we can't seem to forgive. It's a bit new-agey, but I think it rings true. That we forgive others for our own benefit, not the benefit of the forgiven. To feel animosity towards our fellow human beings is another obstacle to fully feeling God's love. It sets up a direct roadblock to freeing ourselves to Jesus' message completely. So it comes full circle to the same reason Jesus implores us to be generous. He commands us to forgive because he loves us. He knows what an impediment having hatred in our soul is to love. If we love fully, and allow ourselves to be loved fully, there is no room for anything else. Hate, sin, selfishness, impurity, these are all things that can't exist simultaneously with love. If we are full of love, we don't have room for anything else. So yes, we have to love our enemies. We have to pray for those who have wronged us. Once again, it's a simple, even obvious, teaching, but one that is hard to master. Just like our possessions are gifts from God, so is mercy. Forgiving is hard for humans, maybe near impossible. But all things are possible for God. If we can envision forgiving not as an action solely of our making, but as a reflection of God's forgiveness, then we can begin to understand how to forgive even the most heinous transgression. If you find this hard, pray. Ask God to let his forgiveness flow through you. Ask for the peace that only comes from letting go. Try to see others as God sees them, as his children that are crying out. As children that, whether they are sorry or not, deep down need our love and his love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Eleven

(en espanol)
First off, a thank you to everyone that has been reading this. We had 70 views just yesterday! Please subscribe to the blog, so you can get updates when I post something new. I will continue to share this on Facebook and Google+ when there is a new post, but subscribing will make sure that you know something is new right away. I also would like to continue to encourage you to share your insights and questions in the comments sections. This blog is essentially for you; to try and add an extra element to the faith journey we are experiencing while reading Rediscover Jesus.

In another Matthew Kelly book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, he talks about generosity being one of these signs. I would like to take it one step further. Generosity is not an activity, but an attitude, a way of being. We talk about it in terms of the fruits of generosity. There's nothing wrong with that. Language has limits, and we sometimes find it hard to put things like a state of being into words. So we talk about the actions that are a result of the state. Having an attitude of generosity is different than giving. We can give for multiple reasons. We just experienced the Christmas season, where one of the focuses is definitely on giving. Even those who don't recognize the birth of Christ as part of Christmas, recognize the giving part. We give presents, we donate to charity, we help out at a soup kitchen, we participate in a giving tree or Toys for Tots, we throw our extra change into the Salvation Army bucket. I could go on. What we have to realize is that sometimes we give out of a sense of obligation, or appreciation, or to feel included, or sometimes for self-gratification. I'm sure you could think of many more examples. My point is that we can give and not be generous. For me, generosity begins by realizing that nothing is really mine. I find myself falling into the trap of the false belief of ownership, that these are my things. I have the right to decide when or what I should give. Here's the epiphany (pun intended). They are God's gifts to me. I am just a steward, a caretaker, of these things that God owns and has given to me. I have no right to the possession of anything. Jesus knew this. Which is why he gave us everything. It's why he still gives us everything: unlimited grace, salvation, his own body and blood, just to name a few. When I begin to scratch the surface of what generosity really means, I know I fall short. I still find myself asking what I can give (time, goods, money) and still be comfortable. If we've seen anything in these first chapters, is that Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. He is asking to be completely let go of our selfishness. If you're brave enough, ask him. Ask Jesus, "What do I have that you want me to share?" The answer may surprise you. His answer will most likely be, "Give up everything and follow me."

We see Jesus' answer in Mark 10:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

The part that struck me is that Mark tells us that Jesus loved him. He did not say this to be a challenge, or to trip up the young man. He told him this because he loved him. As he loves us. His message of absolute generosity is not meant to be a stumbling block. He knows that this is an impediment that keeps us from realizing the Kingdom of Heaven, just as he knew that the young man couldn't except the message without first alleviating himself of his worldly desires. And he doesn't just tell him that giving all of his things away will win salvation for the young man. Jesus says do this and follow me. He is showing him there is something better. He asked him to be a disciple. So the challenge isn't just to give away everything. The challenge is to cast off the false pretense that having things will complete us. To give up on the hope that acquiring more stuff will bring us fulfillment.

So ask Jesus. I know when I did, it was not the answer I was expecting.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Ten

(en espanol)
In part nine, I talked about the origins and the ultimate destiny of love. There was one part that was left out. We must love ourselves. I find that sometimes to be a bigger challenge than loving others. I am the only one who knows just how unworthy I am. All the bad things I have done, all the weaknesses that I keep to myself, all the self-loathing for being a substandard human being. God loves us anyway. If this perfect being loves me and knows me better than I do myself, then maybe I need to be more like him. We only think we know ourselves. There is so much more to our story than we can ever hope to grasp in this lifetime. All of our suffering, our self-doubt, our low moments, all have a purpose. They are all part of a larger picture.

Through the grace of God, we find ourselves in the Year of Mercy. Now is a wonderful time to start loving ourselves again. We should always regret when we have chosen poorly in the past, but only insomuch as to remember that we don't want to repeat those mistakes. They are not who you are. You are who God made you to be and who Jesus knows us to be. When God created people he said it was very good. We are very good. God doesn't create bad. You are good and you are a child of God, and worthy of love. If you have sin weighing down, go to confession. If you have a bad habit, make a resolution to stop, and come up with a concrete plan to conquer it. When you are tempted, pray. Pray a lot. Talk to Jesus. Ask for his help. He is the only way to becoming the best version of yourself.

Rediscover Jesus: Nine

(en espanol)
In philosophy and science there is a concept known as Occam's razor. It essentially say that when confronted with two seemingly plausible explanations, the simplest one is the the closest to the truth. I always thought that this is a testament to how God made the world. The universe does not contain any more or any less than there needs to be. In that kind of world, it only makes sense that the simplest explanation is the truest. Is it any wonder that Jesus could take 613 Mosaic laws and break them down into one simple commandment! Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew Kelly points out that while this is the simplest of teachings to understand, it may be the hardest to follow. Isn't that like a good teacher though? He gives us something so simple, yet it takes us a lifetime to master. At the end of the day, the answer to the eternal question is love. The love of the Father begat the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. The universe was created out of love. God made us so he could share his love with us. The whole universe, physical laws, matter and energy, human consciousness all exist because of love. If you want to harness the most powerful force in the universe, love. If you want to find fulfillment, love. If you want to be like God, love. Whoa. When we understand how to truly love, without conditions, without limits, without expectation; when we love with our whole being, we become aware of our greatest goal in life. We see ourselves in the way we were meant to be. We see the person who Jesus wants us to become.

Rediscover Jesus: Eight

(en espanol)
Jesus was a radical. Jesus is a radical. He doesn't do anything halfway. If you're really in with him, you're in 100%. We may not always live up to that standard, but knowing we have to be there is a hard fought battle in itself. Jesus always went straight to the heart of the matter. To the Truth. That's truth with a capital "T". We can get lost in the new age value of tolerance and moral subjectivity. We can be tempted to rationalize and think that some things are acceptable, when we know in our hearts it is wrong. Knowing Jesus is knowing he is everything. At every moment he is asking us to go all in with him. Multiple people in the Bible try to use him for what he wasn't and he rebuked them every time. He sent the rich man away dejected, when he asked what he needed to do on top of being a good person, following all the rules. "Sell all of your possessions and follow me." In other words, "Go all in." There was no pat on the back, no it's ok, just keep being a good guy. Good doesn't cut it. Jesus needs to be at the center of our lives, in our hearts.

Prayer: Jesus, point me to the root of things, and give me an extra nudge when I am tempted to settle for the shallow and the superficial.

Rediscover Jesus: Seven

(en español)
There is supposed to be a really moving and insightful video here, but apparently this blog site does not have much bandwidth for uploads. I've lost my patience waiting for it to load. So I'll give you the Cliff's notes version.

Jesus loves you.
The hardest thing isn't to love Jesus, but to feel worthy of his love.
There is nothing you could ever do to make him love you less.
There is nothing you could ever do to make him love you less.
There is nothing you could ever do to make him love you less.

Let that sink in.

Now go back and reread page 46.

Rediscover Jesus: Six

(en español)
So many good things packed so tightly into this tiny little chapter. I'm going to jump right into the C.S. Lewis quote on page 40 first. As an aside, if you've never C.S. Lewis, do yourself a favor and pick up something of his. Yes, I am talking about the very same Lewis that wrote The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. He really is a modern day prophet. The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity paint such a vivid reality for the Christian in today's world. Sorry, back to the quote. Lewis proposes that Jesus is one of three possibilities. He's either Lord, lunatic or liar. Well, that's a weird thing to say about Jesus. But then again, it's not. Jesus flat out told us he is the Son of God, and that he is God. Matthew Kelly lines up all the claims that point to this. In each of the gospels, there is a place where Jesus speaks of having powers that only God can have. In Mark, Jesus claims to be the Messiah. In Luke, he says he can see into the future. In John, Jesus tells everyone that he has the power to grant eternal life and that he preexisted the world. Through history, there have been great faith healers, law givers, and religious leaders. None of them have claimed to be God. There's only one. So then here's Lewis' proposal. We can't just think of Jesus as a great thinker, or super nice guy. If we want to distill him down to another human being who invented a moral code, and not God, then we're fools. If he's not God, then he is either lying to us or he's crazy. We'd be awfully foolish to follow a religion founded by someone who either insane or is lying to us. There's the rub. Jesus doesn't let us sit the fence. You're in or your out. This relates directly to what he is telling us today. You can't be happy if you're half in. You can't just wear a cross around your neck or visit him for an hour on Sunday. We are living in denial, if we think Jesus can be pigeon-holed into where we're comfortable keeping him. He is God. He is our creator. He is everywhere. To pretend he is anything else makes us seem rather silly as "believers".

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rediscover Jesus: Five

(en español)
Please allow me to use the word "cool" to talk about Jesus today. I don't have a better word in my vocabulary to describe how I feel when I read about the attributes of Jesus in this Rediscover book. Kelly tells us that Jesus had power over nature, he had power over nature, sins, the law, and death. Why? What is being said here? He had power over these things because He is the one who created the world, our free will, the covenant of the Old Testament, and life. Of course, he can control all of the these things, because he created them! Jesus, in no uncertain terms, is showing us that He is God. How cool is that?! All of the things that we falsely believe has power over us, he has power over. These are the major worries we have in our daily lives. The things that we feel are stronger than us, the things that can defeat us. Natural catastrophes, sin, rules, even death are impediments that we put in our way to truly having complete faith in Jesus.

I challenge myself constantly to have an unconditional faith in Jesus. I strive to believe in Jesus like I believe in gravity. I don't wake up in the morning and tether myself to the ground, with the thought that gravity might just stop working. Imagine how our daily lives would be impeded upon if we didn't take gravity for granted. I'm guessing I wouldn't leave my house if I thought that gravity would fail me at some point in the day. The amazing thing is that we know he created that too! The laws of physics have to obey God. Our belief in the laws of the universe are really an extension of our belief in God, in Jesus. Imagine the power we would have over our doubts, if we wholeheartedly believed that Jesus has control over everything. We worry about money, our safety, our freedom, and our mortality. All of the things we cherish are gifts from God. They come from a benevolent God, who loves us perfectly.

"Do not be afraid." is said in the Bible more than any other phrase. God is speaking directly to us that fear is a stumbling block to faith. So be courageous! To have faith is to trust. Trust in Jesus' word and his plan for us. Continue on this journey knowing that Jesus wants what is best for us, and that he has control over all the things that distract us from faith.