27 Jun 2012 Leave a comment
24 Jun 2012 Leave a comment
You can hear him barking way before you can see him. Loud, persistent and ferocious, he’s making his presence known. He’s kept on a long heavy chain by his owner and around his neck is a thick sturdy collar. As you get closer to the big dog you hope the chain and the collar are both strong enough to hold him back. When you get within sight of him, his barking gets so loud it hurts your ears. The hackles on his back stand up as he stares you down. Your heart pounds. He leaps up as you keep walking toward him and you wonder: just how long is that chain?
Wait a minute. Who would be stupid enough to keep walking towards a big barking dog like that? Anybody with sense is gonna get as far away from those snapping jaws as possible. Nothing good can happen from getting closer to that sort of danger. One step too close and you could end up seriously wounded, or even dead. Just like a chained dog is dangerous if you get to close to him, so is the killing power of sin in our lives. Getting too close to sin is what Catholics call “the near occasion of sin.” It means putting yourself in a situation or around certain people or things that can tempt us to sin. There’s a beautiful Catholic prayer that we pray after we’ve confessed our sins called the “Act of Contrition.” In it, we tell God how sorry we are for offending Him with our sins and we ask Him to forgive us and to give us the grace “to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin.” Getting too close to situations that tempt us is just as dangerous as getting too close to that big chained dog. That’s why it’s so important to examine your life closely to identify your sins and what or who draws you close to sin.
To begin with, sin is willful. That is, you can’t sin by accident or without meaning to. You have to know that the action is sinful and you have to consciously choose to do it anyway. So if sin is a choice, you can also choose NOT to sin. We know that we need the help of God’s grace to avoid sin. Without grace, we’re weak and easily tempted. We keep committing the same sins and can’t seem to break the pattern. Grace is our only hope. Christ is our only hope. We received the gift of His grace at our baptism when we were drawn into the very life of God. Baptismal grace brings us out of darkness and into Light. Baptism makes us a child of God and opens the door of heaven for us. God’s grace fills us again in every Eucharist. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit once more infuses us with God’s grace and love. He gives us so many opportunities for the strength we need to avoid sin.
What’s your near occasion of sin? Are you as fearful of sin as you are of that dangerous dog? You should be. You should be even more afraid of sinning against God than of that big barking dog. The dog can wound your body but sin wounds your immortal soul. Sin can kill your soul if you allow yourself. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, known better as Padre Pio (1887-1968) was a 20th century saint who described how dangerous this can be: “The devil is like a rabid dog tied to a chain; beyond the length of the chain he cannot seize anyone. And you — keep at a distance. If you approach too near, you let yourself be caught.” So the question is: just how long is that chain? Do you keep yourself far enough from the things and people and situations in your life that tempt you to sin? Are you aware of whom and what you must avoid so that grace can help you to avoid sin? Pray that God will reveal your sins to you. This is one of His great gifts to us. When we know sin for what it is, we can begin to overcome it with His help. You will see your sins for the horrible and deadly things that they are. As Christians, we seek to do the will of Christ and we pray that His grace will help us to closely follow Him. Stay close to Christ in prayer. Open your heart to Him. Stay close to Christ in His Church and in the sacraments Jesus made for us. Begin each day by offering it to the Lord and every evening, examine the day and ask God to forgive you for the sins you’ve committed that day. Soon God will help you to recognize those near occasions of sin in your life. You’ll hear the barking dog from a long distance away and God’s grace will keep you far from his dangerous bite.
“Sin isn’t the worst thing in the world. The worst thing is the denial of sin.”
—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979)
19 Jun 2012 Leave a comment
17 Jun 2012 Leave a comment
In our relationships with one another we treasure those people who know us and love us. Lifelong friends and family who know all our strengths and failings and love us anyway are trusted and beloved gifts. Without this core of love and support, we can easily lose our way. We rely on them to keep us grounded, to encourage us, to call us out when we go off course, to listen to us and to stand with us in good times and in bad times. To be truly known by someone else, we have to make ourselves vulnerable to them. We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings if we seek intimacy. Those we allow inside our hearts are the ones whose words and actions can most hurt us, too. I love reading about the friendship between Jesus and Peter in the gospels. Of all the relationships in Christ’s human life, the one He shares with St. Peter intrigues me the most. Peter has such a big heart—a God-sized heart—and he loves deeply and fiercely. His heart also leads him to poor judgments at times, and deep, painful regrets. Jesus knew his friend’s heart perfectly because He created it. I think it was his big heart that Christ loved so much and it was that same bigness of heart that allowed Peter to hear the Holy Spirit and know that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.
Jesus had been living in Capernaum, Peter’s hometown on the sea of Galilee, when He began His public ministry. You have to wonder how well the two men knew each other before Christ called Peter and his brother Andrew to be His first disciples. I love that Peter heard Jesus’ call to follow and “at once” he and his brother followed Him (Matthew 5:20). Friends that don’t hesitate to come to us when we need them are the very best kind. All of us have that short list of true friends and family that we call on in bad times to help us and in good times to celebrate with us. Christ called Peter and Peter left everything behind—family, home and business—to come with Him and enter into the deepest and most transformational relationship he’d ever know. Peter was there by Christ’s side throughout His ministry. It was Peter’s faith that Christ loved so much that He made him the “rock” upon whom He’d build His Church (Matthew 16:18). Peter was there with Christ at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:27-36). Peter’s faith allowed him to step out of the boat and walk on the water towards Christ—at least for a few steps (Mark 6:45-52). Yet Peter had his weaknesses as well. Oftentimes he got Christ’s teachings a bit wrong, but our Lord was patient and forgiving with Peter, just as He is with each one of us.
On the night before His Passion, Peter and Jesus experience a turning point in their friendship. At supper, Christ foretells the betrayal that will lead to His arrest. Peter is adamant that his faith in the Lord would never be shaken. Jesus pointedly tells Peter that is about to deny Him not once, but three times. Peter contradicts and says “Even though I should have to die with You, I will not deny You (Matthew 26:35). Of course we know that Peter does deny Christ three times that morning, just as the Lord had said he would. Peter’s heart is broken when he realizes what he’s done to his Savior. We read in St. Luke’s gospel of an intimate, tender moment in their friendship. Just as Peter has denied Christ for the third time and the guards are leading Jesus away in chains, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Think about that look for a moment. The cruel words have just left Peter’s mouth, the cock has crowed and now he’s looking into Jesus’ eyes, with the full impact of his denial hanging in the air between them. Peter knows what he’s done. Christ knows what he’s done. But in His look is no accusation or judgment. His look is full of love for Peter. And seeing Love looking back at him, Peter breaks down into tears, his heart overflowing with sorrow for what he’s done. Christ returns love and mercy for denial. We can even imagine that there is hope in Christ’s eyes, the hope of Peter’s redemption. What Jesus does for Peter in that moment is what He does for each one of us in the Sacrament of Confession. He meets our sins with His overwhelming forgiveness. He embraces our weaknesses with His great mercy. Like Peter, we may expect condemnation, but Christ surprises us with acceptance and with love. No sin is beyond His forgiveness. Nothing we could ever do will make Him turn His face from us. This is what Peter saw when He looked at Jesus. And Jesus saw His best friend whom He loved with all His heart and for whom He was about to give His life. This is a moment that He offers to each one of us in Confession. Love. Mercy. Forgiveness. No matter your sins or how long you’ve been away from the Sacrament. He is waiting for you there. Christ is the One Who knows you best and loves you most.
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
—The Confession of St. Peter, Matthew 16:16
13 Jun 2012 1 Comment
10 Jun 2012 2 Comments
Some things are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. Like a person’s heart. I thought of this at the grocery store today. You see I’m blessed to live in a small town with a great old-fashioned grocery store that still has “bag boys” who will take your groceries out to your car for you. Many of these guys might be well-past the “boy” stage but all of them are consistently courteous and helpful. Two of the baggers are among my favorites. I try to always get in one of their checkout lines if I can. Both these guys have Down Syndrome. And they both do an outstanding job. One is a little older and a lot quieter and more shy. The younger one has a quick smile and likes to inspect each item before bagging it. Without trying to, their presence in my life has a powerful testimony.
I imagine their mothers and fathers. Did they know the genetics of their sons before the babies were born? Or did they discover the uniqueness of their children only at birth? In either case, these parents said “yes” to God’s gift of life. Their love for their boys is a testimony of our Lord’s love for each one of us. Christ accepts and embraces each of us just as we are, with all our gifts and weaknesses. He loves us completely, embracing our incompleteness with His gifts of love and mercy. I imagine their teachers who saw the struggles and the triumphs as each one made their way through school. Did they make friends easily? Did other kids accept their weaknesses as well as their strengths? Growing up different is something we all do, each in our own way. Yet these men wear their differences more publicly than most of us do. Their families and friends and teachers were the first to see them learn and grow, to stumble and fall, and get up again. That circle of support reveals how God created us for relationships. He never meant for us to make the journey of life alone. He chose 12 men to change the world. He gave us His Church so that we could lean on and learn from one another and grow in holiness together. We are at our best when we’re surrounded by the love of other people.
Helping these men continue to grow and learn is their employer and their coworkers, too. The opportunity to work, to contribute to society and to earn an income recognizes the value and dignity of each human life. Through work, we earn our way economically and we use our time in honest labor to provide for ourselves and our families. Our work can be a pleasing offering to the Lord if we dedicate our labor to Him. Many of the saints saw work as a kind of prayer. “Work is prayer expressed in action,” wrote St. Josemaria Escriva. Supporting these men in their work gives them a chance to continue to grow and learn. Their employer confirms their work to our community and society.
Lastly, these two men themselves reveal the love and mercy of God. In them, I see myself and my own failings and triumphs. I know they struggle with things, like I do. In ways that are different and yet much the same, all three of us are broken and wounded children of God. We all need the love and acceptance of our family and friends. We need the support of other people to make our way in the world. We need to be contributing citizens in society. We need work that we can transform into prayer and be transformed by it into the best version of ourselves. God blesses each one of us differently. Some are obvious, like Down Syndrome. Others are hidden, except to the Lord. When we give our hearts to Him, He enters into them and draws us to Himself. Christ seeks our hearts to be His dwelling place. That’s how a human heart is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Just as the small communion host becomes Jesus, the Christ. And a tiny stable in Bethlehem contained God Himself. Appearances don’t reveal the whole story. When I see my two friends at the grocery store, I know I’m only seeing a bit of their larger and more beautiful stories. Things are bigger on the inside.
“A soul enkindled with love is a gentle, meek, humble, and patient soul.”
–St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
08 Jun 2012 1 Comment