Just Stop It

You can never be good enough. You can never be kind enough. You can try as hard as you can, but you’ll never be humble enough or generous enough or merciful enough. You can strive every day to be patient and long-suffering, but it won’t work. You’ll never make it, no matter how virtuous and “good” you are and how hard and tirelessly you try.

You see, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.

Unlike all other religions, from Islam to Buddhism to animism, Christianity teaches its followers that God loves them totally and completely, just as they are. His love for you and for me is dependent on NOTHING that we can ever do or say. His love is His Nature and is contingent on nothing else.

Accepting this fact is life-changing. This is pure, unconditional love and most of us find it a radically-new experience. Only the love of parents can mirror in a human way the perfect love of God for His children. Far too many of us believe that we’re not worthy of this kind of overwhelming love. Somewhere deep inside of us is a list of stuff we think we have to do in order to MAKE God love us. I have to read the Bible more often. I have to tithe. I have to volunteer for more ministry work. Nope. To repeat: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. He already loves you perfectly. All you have to do is to accept that love.

There’s more good news, too. God is not impressed when you think you aren’t worthy of His love. In fact, there’s NOTHING you can do that will make God love you any less. Think about that for a minute. Probably you’ve always believed that when you do bad things, what we call “sin,” it makes God love you less. But it doesn’t. God IS love—–it’s His very Nature. He can’t not love you, no matter what you do or what you think of yourself.

Does your sin disappoint the Lord? Sure it does. It offends Him and it distances you from Him when you choose to sin. If it’s a serious sin, it can cut you off from a relationship with Him and endanger your immortal soul. It’s serious. But even in the middle of your worst possible sin—–God loves you just the same. One of my favorite Scripture verses promises us this: “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). Before we even knew Him, He suffered and died for us on the Cross. That’s incredible love. It’s beyond our human imagination. And I think that’s part of why we can’t consider ourselves worthy of His love.

We please God when we take Him up on that love. When we turn away from our sin (repent) we find Him already there, already and always there, waiting to welcome us into His friendship. He’s never been anywhere else.

His love calls us into loving each other. This means loving even most the unlovable among us. That means loving sinners. Just like you and me. And it means forgiving people who have wronged us, even if they don’t apologize and even if we’re still angry or hurting. Forgiving others is being like Jesus, and when we love and forgive one another, it pleases Him.

Sometimes it’s tempting to make our faith really complicated. But the heart of it is pretty simple: to love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us. Easter is coming. And it’s all about His love for us and how much He wants to know us and have a relationship with us. We Catholics believe that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. He wants to raise you from the dead, too. He wants you to know that you ARE good enough and kind enough—that none of your sins have changed how much He loves you. He wants you to know that you belong to Him, and you always will.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”


—St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

The Risk of Prayer

I’ve been blessed with a very good friend whom I love dearly and who never fails to build up my faith and teach me how to more fully follow Jesus Christ. She’s a wife, a mother, and a grandmother who works full-time and volunteers at three different charities. Somehow she also finds time to be a great cook, a talented painter, and her house looks like something out of “Architectural Digest.” She kind of makes me sick—-but in a good way. Being around her calls me to do greater things. She lifts my heart and spirit in so many ways. This woman’s whole life is a prayer to God. And that’s her dearest example for me. Her life is so full of good fruit because her heart is always seeking the Lord.  

Over the years, I’ve learned about her prayer life by watching her live it. She doesn’t particularly enjoy talking about prayer, she’d rather just pray. But I think we all need to know more about prayer, so with her blessing, I’m sharing some of what she’s taught me. Learning to pray is like beginning any relationship. It develops over time and deepens through growing intimacy. There are times when it seems no one is listening to you, but this is a deception. Our Lord is always there. Are you? 

Begin the day with prayer. Catholics pray a “Morning Offering” in which we give thanks and offer our day to God, in our words, our thoughts, and our actions. We beg Him to do His will through us. My friend finds ways to “pray without ceasing” throughout her day. These ways are not new prayers, with many of her favorites well-known to most Catholics. She says she’s a “dabbler” and doesn’t pray the same way each day. Her secret is to keep at it.  

Just pray. But what does that mean? It means opening your heart and mind to God. It means seeking Him out and inviting Him to breathe His Spirit into you and to know you. It’s an active reaching out to Him. And it’s a quiet and receptive listening to His leading you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. Praying is loving the Lord with your thoughts and emotions as well as your intellect and your will. It’s a process of surrender and submission in which we discover our purpose in life. Prayer is building a relationship, but not like a relationship with another human being. People can disappoint us. People can betray and deceive us. Building an earthly relationship contains within it a seed of doubt. That’s why we treasure our lasting friendships so much. True friends are priceless. But a relationship with the Lord is built upon the rock of Truth. He will never disappoint us. He cannot betray our trust. With God, there is no doubt of His love.

The only risk in our relationship with God is that He will transform us into the person He created us to be. We risk being truly and honestly and completely known by someone, and still loved by them. We risk having to change, to conform our will and our actions to that of our Blessed Savior. And there will be pain in that changing.  

Ultimately, when we love God we risk giving ourselves away. Loving God makes it hard to walk by a hungry person. It makes it hard to ignore a homeless family standing on the side of the road. Love makes it hard to keep ourselves safely self-involved. This explains why my friend spends her life away in the love and service of others. And how her ceaseless praying is at the center of all that humility and sacrifice. The more she prays, the more she loves, and the more she has to share with others.  

So, pray. And ask others to pray for you. Ask the Saints to pray for you. Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you. Read the Gospels. Choose a chapter and read one every day. Ask God to reveal Himself to you in that chapter. Pray your way through the Psalms. These are the prayers that Jesus prayed, after all. Pray the Angelus at noon each day. When you get ready for bed, review the day you’ve had and see those things you could have done differently, and with more love. Go to confession. Spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Take the risk to give your heart to the Lord in prayer. 

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love.”

            —C.S. Lewis 

Don’t Quarantine Kindness

One of my favorite Pope Francis quotes is this one: “You pray for the hungry.  Then you feed them.  That’s how prayer works.”  I suppose I’ve always known this was true, but each time I pray, it makes me more aware of how I’m praying, of what I’m praying for and of what I need to do so that my prayers are more fruitful.  It makes me aware of what I need to do every day in order to be the love and mercy of Christ to my neighbor. Even in these days of distancing, we can explore ways to put our prayers into action.

Let’s start with what Pope Francis said about praying for the hungry.  Pray and work in your church’s food pantry.  Start one if you don’t have one.  Organize a drive for the local food bank.  Start a neighborhood vegetable garden.  Collect restaurant donations for the soup kitchen.  Host a community yard sale to benefit a feed-the-children program.

Pray for the homeless and educate yourself about all the reasons someone might end up without a roof over their head.  Many suffer from mental illness and/or addictions.  Many more are families who have fallen on hard times.  Don’t assume they just don’t want to work for their housing.  Use the skills you have to help them find jobs. Cut their hair.  Help them with their resume.  Donate to the agencies in your area that can make the biggest impact.  Do your homework.

Pray for the lonely.  Take a meal to your aged neighbor.  Volunteer to drive a parishioner to Mass.  Or drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or the hair salon, or the grocery store.  Deliver meals-on-wheels to the shut-ins or elderly in your area.  Organize a parish ministry that provides in-home help with small housekeeping tasks like taking out the trash, changing lightbulbs, or doing light yard work or repairs.  Even something as simple as a phone call can make all the difference to someone who rarely hears another person’s voice.  Don’t forget those folks in nursing homes, either.  Many of the residents don’t have family or friends to visit them. Send cards if you can’t visit right now.

Pray for your sick friend.  Take them their favorite meal, or music, or movie.  Read to them, especially something you both enjoy.  Or buy them a gift subscription to an audio book service. Be their library connection.  Do a load of laundry for them.  Walk their dog.  Rake their leaves.  Call them when you’re at the grocery store or Target and ask if you can bring them anything.  Be their hands and feet until they’re feeling better.

Pray for your friend who is grieving.  Contact them as soon as you learn of their loss.  Be honest and direct in acknowledging their grief.  Let them mourn they way that they need to mourn and for as long as they need to.  Be available but don’t be hurt if they need their alone time.  Keep asking and keep inviting.  Share your memories of their late loved one, if you know them.  Cry together.  Give them flowers a month (or two or three) after their loss.  They’ll appreciate them more then.

Pray for peace in our world.  Be a peacemaker in your family, at your job, in your parish, and in your community.  Help each other.  Forgive old grievances and hurts.  Your children will learn kindness by how you treat your spouse and other people.  Show them how to be open and accepting towards folks who might look different or speak differently or have different abilities.  Involve yourself in civic organizations that work for justice, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

 Consecrate your heart and your family to serving the Lord of peace.  Love.  Forgive.  And be patient with everyone you meet.

When we pray, we’re grateful for all the Lord has generously given to us.  We ask Him for His forgiveness of our sins and for His help in avoiding sin in the future.  We ask for what we need, for what our family needs, and for what our world needs.  And we ask for the faith and the strength we need to live out the Gospel in our lives.  As we journey through life we encounter so many opportunities to help those around us.  May our prayers be more than words as we open our hearts to the Lord’s call of service.  As Pope Francis said, “That’s how prayer works.”  Amen.  

“We prove our love for Jesus by what we do, by who we are.”

       —–St. Teresa of Calcutta.

God’s Pleasure

One day last week I had one of those unpleasant 24-hour bugs. All I wanted to do was lay very still and sip on 7-Up. I turned on the TV and the movie “Chariots of Fire” was just starting. I hadn’t seen it in many years and honestly didn’t remember much of the plot. I kind of hoped it would put me to sleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up I’d feel better. But I didn’t sleep. I was drawn into the movie and the characters, especially the story of the Scottish minister and runner, Eric Liddell. He’s most known for his refusal to compete on Sundays, throwing his, and his country’s 1924 Olympic dreams into doubt. I won’t spoil the story for you if you’ve never seen the movie. It’s a great film and during these homebound weeks would make for wonderful family viewing.  

There’s a moment when Eric Liddell is talking with his sister about why he runs. She feels that her brother lets his running distract him from his more important missionary work. He tells her, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” How incredible to imagine that we can feel God’s joy! Maybe you’ve experienced a moment like that yourself. I think it’s pretty easy to think of God’s pleasure when we hear a great piece of music like the “Ode To Joy” or the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Or to imagine God smiling as He gazes on a beautiful sculpture or a painting masterpiece. The gifts of of art and music and even world-class running seem to easily showcase the exuberance of God’s joy when He created these gifts in us. We stand, we cheer, we shed a tear—because that same joy overflows within us during those moments and we recognize it. In a way, those transcendent moments let us glimpse the pleasure of God that Mr. Liddell describes.  

But, as I lay there on the couch last week, trying not to throw up, I seemed light years away from any kind of transcendent moment of creative joy. I wonder how many of us might have a hard time imagining how we can please God in our own “ordinary” lives. And yet, that’s exactly what we’re each called to do. When we please God, we are most fully ourselves—most fully the person He created us to be. And vice versa. When we’re the best version of ourselves, it pleases the Lord. Even if you’re not an artist or a poet or an Olympic runner. Even when I’m sick on the couch, I can please God.  

Many saints have written about how to do this. My favorite, perhaps because she speaks in ordinary, everyday language, is St. Therese of Lisieux. She lived in the latter part of the 1800’s in France and died of tuberculosis when she was just 24. She was convinced that all of us can be saints by living every moment of our lives as a little child in the lap of God the Father. She teaches us that every small act of love and sacrifice that we offer to God can be immeasurably valuable. She said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” Hey, even I can do that. If something so small and ordinary can be offered to God as a sacrifice for others, then everything we do in our lives can be an act of love. It’s how we can “pray without ceasing” as St. Paul tells us (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). And mostly, it’s a way of holiness that even a sinner like me can follow. St. Therese’s “Little Way” offers us sainthood in whatever our role in life. Mothers, fathers, teachers, clerks, bus drivers—whenever we act out of love and sacrifice, we can feel God’s pleasure. That’s a good thing to remember as we begin each day. In a prayer written by St. Therese, she says in part: 

I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I

wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

God = Truth

There’s at least one belief that is central to all of Christianity and Judaism and that is that the God of Abraham is a truthful God. He is, in fact, Truth Himself. “The sum of Your word is truth…”(Psalm 119: 160). There is nothing in God but truth. He never lies, never “mis-speaks,” never goes back on His word. God doesn’t trick us or try to lead us astray. He simply IS, and in being Who He is, is all that is true and good and beautiful. This is one of the great assurances and consolations of our faith: our God is Truth.

We can read Holy Scripture and know that God’s revelation can be counted on, without reservation. He keeps His promises. Christians can know with certainty that our God is truth and that He has fully-revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. And yet we see many Christians all around us who have come to believe that God lies to us all the time through His creation and through our culture. Our daily life is rife with illusion and deception—from politics to social media to the corporate world. Who can believe any photograph anymore since the invention of Photoshop? Who can believe music since the coming of AutoTune? Breast implants, facelifts, hair extensions and Botox have made the human body a canvas for plastic surgeons. What is real? What is true?

But our infatuation with being deceived goes much deeper than our skins and our voices. And the implications of our shadow dance have eternal consequences. Many Christians, even many Catholics, believe that abortion is just another medical procedure that women should be free to choose. They don’t believe in the reality of the child in their womb. The baby is a lump of cells that is part of her body and she is free to dispose of “it” like a bothersome wart. Most women suffer great guilt and regret after an abortion. Deep down, they know that abortion kills a child and yet we continue to live this lie and to support it.  

Research shows us that most Americans, including the majority of Catholics, support same-sex “marriage.” Ireland recently voted to legalize it. But because something is legal to do doesn’t mean that it’s in accordance with God’s law. Marriage reflects the unity of God with His bride, the Church. Just as human marriage bears the fruit of children, the marriage of the Lamb bears the fruit of eternal life. Same-sex couples (or triples, or groups, at some point) may become legally contracted together but is not marriage as revealed in Holy Scripture. To believe that it is the same is to embrace a distortion of reality.

Most recently, our culture has told us that God lies to us in our very creation. We’re asked to believe that the most basic scientific revelation of God’s will for our lives—the DNA that defines our biology—is a mistake or a trick. We can, by our own choosing, decide not to be a man or a woman, but we can change what we are. The truth is, we can’t change one cell of our bodies, but only the clothes we wear and the names we call ourselves. Who we are is not determined by how we look. And a baby is a baby, no matter if it’s born or unborn. Truth is truth and no amount of our own imagining or wishing can make it otherwise.  

“Truth is not determined by a majority vote.”   —Pope Benedict XVI

It’s About Us

I recently read a list of complaints about the church which was written by a young man. It touched on the variety of factors which the author felt has led to young people feeling disengaged, disillusioned, disappointed, and just “dissed” by the church. He cited his list of issues as being central to understanding why so many millennials no longer attend church. The facts are that fewer people of ALL age groups attend church now and while young people often view their issues as unique, they’re not. 

The truth is, at one time or another, we’ve all felt (and may continue to feel) as though our church wasn’t listening to us. That isn’t something unique to churches either. You’re going to feel ignored at work, at home, and among your friends. The church is made up of flawed and sinful people—like you and me. My advice to you is: get over it. If you feel ignored, speak up. Volunteer. You don’t need an invitation to give your time and money to a ministry or project. Just do it. Most churches are chronically in need of more helping hands. You won’t be ignored for long if you’re showing up to help. 

The author despairs that the church isn’t doing enough to help the poor. This might be true for his particular church, but churches do an enormous amount of charitable work. They feed, clothe, educate, and provide medical care to millions of people around the world every single day. If you are in a church that isn’t doing enough for the poor, then start doing it yourself. Open a food bank. Start a soup kitchen. Organize a clothes closet. The poor are always with us and we can always do more to help them.  

He bemoans that his church is not welcoming to newcomers. Does he make it a point to introduce himself to those he doesn’t know? Has he ever invited a visitor for coffee after church? Does he stand at the door and shake hands, hand out bulletins, offer directions or answer questions before church begins?  

The author says that young people want to feel valued. Who doesn’t? We all want to feel that we matter and that we’re contributing members of something greater than ourselves. But this doesn’t happen automatically. Your church can’t value or appreciate someone they don’t know. Are you attending church services? Have you volunteered for ministry service? Have you ever attended a Bible study, a church picnic, or a planning meeting? We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our church, just as Jesus sacrificed everything for her.  

The article goes on to list all the things “the church” could do to improve and to change. The truth is the church is you, it’s me, it’s all of us. If the church has problems, it’s because I have problems. If the church needs help, it’s because I need help. It’s easy to say that you’re not getting anything out of church. The real issue is: what am I bringing to the church? Do I lay myself and my life at His altar and pray that He will use me to enrich His church?

“We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.”

              —–C.S. Lewis

The Truth of Easter

Easter is the ultimate truth of the universe. Every other truth is dependent on the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again. He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Through His death and resurrection, we have been given eternal life. Everything has changed. Everything has been made new (Revelation 21:5). Everything. Including you and me and how we live our lives. This isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a theory. Our salvation is a Person. A real, historical Person. He has transformed the world and all that it’s in it. The power of Easter is utterly and completely and shatteringly true. Easter is the power of creation itself given to each of us as a gift from God. Yet so often we fail to accept it. We trudge along with downcast eyes, burdened by life, acting as if Jesus never defeated death. We don’t realize that He has set us free.

A free life is one that reflects the truth, the love, and the power of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning. It’s a life lived without fear of the tomb. And it’s amazing. Interested?

Love your family. Lay down your life for them. Celebrate the worthiness of your beloved by uniting with them in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Don’t be fooled by the world’s attempts to lure you into living with someone, or being satisfied with some other imitation of marriage. Live the Sacrament. Be open to the gift of life. Allow the Lord to involve you in creating your family in His timing, which is always perfect. Raise your children in the faith of His Church. Pray for them and with them every day. Let them see you welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned and give without counting the cost.  

Treat your neighbors as members of your family. Be honest and straightforward in your business dealings. Pay others a living wage. Involve yourself in the life of your community. Teach your children to respect the laws of our country and how to serve others in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even if it is unpopular. Share your faith in the public square. Work hard to support your family and let your children see the value of a job well done. Give of your time, talent and treasure to support the Church. Teach your children to do the same. Be joyful in all that you do. Let your children see that even our suffering can be a blessing when it is offered to the Lord. Life can be hard and it’s often unfair, but we are just passing through this world on the way to our true home. Help your family keep their eyes fixed on Jesus by watching you follow Him.  

Never be afraid of loving. Be kind to everyone. Show mercy. Pray for the people who cause you pain. Give people second chances. Be content in silence. Put down your phone and talk. Teach your children to pray the Rosary. Make time for art and music. Seek beauty and teach your children to know true beauty. When we seek beauty, we seek God. Life your life in the joy of Easter morning, every day. Christ has freed us from the chains of sin and death. He gave us a Church to lead us to heaven. That same Church gave us the Bible, which is His holy word. Rejoice in the gift of His love and embrace a life lived in faith. Allow Him to love you as He created you to be loved. Easter changes everything.

Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.”

                      —Pope St. John Paul II 

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