Your Purpose

Planned Parenthood.  It’s the familiar name of an organization involved in promoting artificial contraception and abortion services—both of which go against the teachings of the Catholic Church.  But it’s the word “planned” that is intriguing—as if the creation of a baby could in any way be accidental.  Certainly, there are children who are conceived outside of a marriage, or at a time or circumstance in the lives of their parents when either one or both of them might not have anticipated or even hoped for a child to enter their lives.  But no person is an accident.  No person is unplanned by God. “I am your Creator.  You were in My care even before you were born” (Isaiah 44:2).  As Christians, we are confident in knowing that the Creator of the universe planned everything about us, from when we’d be born and to which set of parents, to the color of our eyes and the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). 


And if He planned us, then He also must have had a reason for our lives.  In Scripture, He tells us that we are made “to be holy” (Ephesians 1:4).  “Holy” means “set apart for God.”  We are created to be like Jesus Christ, to become like Him in our mind, our heart, our feelings and our sentiments so that we can continue His mission—so that we can be Christ to the world.  Jesus Himself tells us what He wants of us.  Our mission from Him is so important, so critical, that He explains it five times in five different ways in Scripture.  In Matthew, He tells His followers, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:16-20).  This is called “The Great Commission” and has been the mission of His Church since the moment Jesus spoke these words.  But it’s also the mission of each one of us as His children.  Remember that He planned you from before the foundation of the world.  He knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  Despite what the world tells you, He tells you that you are precious and wanted and loved.  He calls you to know Him and to serve Him.  You are chosen by God.


He chooses us to come to Him and then commissions us to go for Him.  Many people think only priests or religious or missionaries are called by Him to spread the good news of the Gospel.  Not true!  Remember the story of Isaiah, when he heard the Lord asking,”Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Isaiah didn’t stop to think who might be better-suited or more well-trained or be a better speaker than him.  He didn’t think of himself at all, but he heard the call of God and responded.  He said, “Here am I, Lord; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)  This should be our own prayer, as well.  For the Church is not a hotel, it’s our family home.  In a hotel, we pay some money and other people do the work for us.  Just coming to Mass and putting something in the collection basket while others—the pastor, the parish staff, volunteers—do the work, isn’t living up to Christ’s call.  In a home, everyone pitches in.  We are commissioned by Him to put our unique gifts and graces to work for His glory.  This is the path for our salvation, after all.  It’s His plan for our lives.  It’s the reason He made you the singular and irreplaceable person that you are—because without you, we are all made less.  No one else can play your part in His wonderful and glorious plan of salvation.  “Before the world was made, He chose us” (Ephesians 1:3). 


“We have not come into the world to be numbered; we have been created for a purpose; for great things:   to love and be loved.”                                                     —St.Teresa of Calcutta

Knowing God

All of us long to know God. It’s been said that there is a God-shaped hole in the hearts of men. I believe that’s true. We seek Him out — in His scripture, in His Church, in the beauty of creation, and in one another. And if we truly and humbly search for God, He never disappoints us. Lately, I’ve been reading about people who claim to have encountered God in their dreams, in visions, and through His angels. This can be a confusing journey full of hazards and dead-ends. Thankfully I’m blessed to have guidance along my way in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

The Church teaches (and has taught for many centuries) that the public revelation of God ceased upon the death of St. John, the last living Apostle. Jesus Christ was and is the complete and total revelation of the living God. Nothing can “add to” to the Word of God in His beloved Son. As the Catechism states,”….no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ”(paragraph 66). So do Catholics believe that God no longer reveals Himself to us? Of course not. We come to know God throughout our lives in and through our prayerful participation in the Church He left for us. We enter into His family at Baptism. We encounter the grace of His mercy in Confession. No more intimate knowledge and experience of Christ exists than in our communion with Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Our Confirmation infuses us with the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit. God reveals Himself to us in our reading of Sacred scripture and in our prayer life which is a true fount of His love and grace. The Holy Spirit inspires and teaches us in the Sacred Tradition of His Church. God is always reaching out to us and pulling us closer to His Sacred Heart.

Throughout the centuries, people have claimed to have received private revelations from God. From the very first years after Christ’s Ascension, the early Church fathers taught that private revelation should always be approached with great prudence. Men like Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Augustine all taught about the proper limits of private “knowledge” of God that persons might claim to have received in dreams or visions. And yet the Church has always been open to the workings of God in the lives of His children. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good”(I Thess. 5:19-21). The testing and retaining is part of the authority that Christ gave to His Church and so this process is rightfully one left to the pope and bishops. St. John spoke of this authority: “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who doesn’t belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit” (I John 4:6). Catholics believe in miracles and our Church is open to them. At the same time, any true mystic or visionary will readily submit themselves to the investigation and scrutiny of Christ’s Church because the Church acts with His authority. She is, after all, His spotless Bride.

Private revelation is never necessary for salvation. A person’s visions or writings can never “correct” or surpass the revelation of Jesus Christ. If anyone claims otherwise, he or she is in error, even if their “revelation” gains a large and popular following. We see this everywhere today. In the final analysis, either there is a Church whose authority was given it by God, or there is not. If there’s not, then anything goes and your religion is just as valid as anyone else’s religion. From the writings of Mohammed and Joseph Smith, to all the new-age mystics and seers and prophets, we have more than 33.000 different religious denominations on the planet today. Someone has a vision or a “word of knowledge” and the next thing, they start their own church. We have splintered the Body of Christ by rejecting the authority He gave to St. Peter and his successors. Surely God weeps that His family is so estranged from one another. If we are followers of Christ, we must pray and work together to come back under the same tent, to kneel together at the same altar and to profess our faith in the one, true God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“…I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
—–Matthew 16:18

The Life of God

Grace. It’s something we hear about a lot. In songs and books and sermons. But what is grace? Could you explain it to someone who isn’t a Christian? Or, for that matter, to a fellow believer? In my experience, most folks have a pretty fuzzy notion of what grace really is. Unfortunately, lots of people use grace to describe a feeling that they experience in certain situations. Grace means feeling close to God, or experiencing consolation in prayer or feeling uplifted in worship. 

In fact, grace isn’t a feeling or emotion at all. It’s the love and mercy of God, given freely and undeservedly to a believer. Grace is so fundamental to Christianity that St. Paul wrote that our relationship with Christ is “the gospel of the grace of God”(Acts 22:24). This grace is given to us first in Baptism, and then through the other Sacraments which Jesus instituted. There is actual grace and sanctifying grace, both of which justify and save us. “Grace is a participation in the life of God”(Catechism #1997). Grace is also that tugging of your heart to become more like Jesus. To love more, to forgive more, to seek forgiveness of your sins and to conform your heart to the Lord’s heart. It is supernatural because no one can do this without the grace of God.  

We share the grace of God with others when we give His love away, just as freely and undeservedly as He loves us. When we are living in the grace of God, we can’t help but share it with others. It can’t be contained. Many years ago, I knew a priest whose presence was joyful, kind, forgiving, and powerful. I watched people blossom and grow in faith around him, like flowers nourished by the rain and the sun. I was one of them. I used to think that he chose people to befriend because he saw something special in us, but now I know I had things backwards. We began to feel and behave differently because he treated us as if we were special. We were transformed by how he saw us. That’s how grace works among us.  

We are transformed by how Christ sees us. To Him, we’re His beautiful child. No matter how broken we feel, no matter what our sins might be, no matter how many times we’ve tried before and failed—in His eyes, we’re more precious than gold. Under His gaze, our wounds are healed, our sins forgiven, our hope restored. Grace isn’t some magical pixie dust. Like the Catechism says, it’s participating in the very life of God. It’s undeserved intimacy in the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

Grace is what gives us supernatural life. Without it, any hope for heaven is lost. When we confess our sins and receive Holy Communion, the grace that we receive is the life of God pulling us to His heart and giving us the strength and the will to lead others to Him as well. Like the priest I knew, a grace-filled life radiates love and encouragement, joy and acceptance. People will want what you have and will want to know how your life was transformed. Grace leads people to know God. What better way to spend your days here on earth than bringing other souls along on the road to heaven?

“Have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love?”

           —-St. Teresa of Calcutta.

We See Him Everywhere

A woman in Utah sees a figure of Jesus on the side of her barn.  A Michigan family burns candles in front of a leather shoe on which they see the face of the Blessed Virgin.  You’ve probably heard stories like this. Christ on a piece of toast.  Mary in a water-stained concrete overpass.  We might find these stories funny or even shake our heads and wonder about the people involved.  Psychologists tell us though that we’re hard-wired to see human faces in the things of the world.  Wallpaper prints or linoleum patterns or leaves or rocks.  Who hasn’t looked up at the sky and seen a face in the clouds?  Scientists say our brains see faces as part of an evolutionary adaptation to see and protect babies.  We’re naturally drawn to faces because faces reveal our humanity in the midst of the dangers and chaos of the world around us. 


Or maybe there’s another reason.  Maybe it’s something much more profound than evolution and more miraculous than psychology.  Maybe we see Jesus on a piece of toast because He created us to seek Him.  And not just in church, but everywhere in the world.  It’s His creation, after all.  So it makes sense that we see Him or His mother in the world He made for us.  Why wouldn’t we see God in the things of the world?  It would seem much more miraculous if we didn’t see Jesus all over the place.  When I run across one of those “Jesus in a water stain” pictures, I admit that most of the time, I can see Him, too.


Our hunger for God leads our heart to find Him.  But we can never confuse seeing an appearance of an image of the Lord with an authentic relationship with Him.  It’s like confusing pleasure with happiness.  You can go to Mass every Sunday, support the work of the Church financially and with your talents, wear a crucifix around your neck and call yourself a Christian—but if you don’t know Jesus, you’re still lost.  God made us to know Him.  And we know Him by spending time with Him.  Just like in any relationship, you get to know someone by talking, by listening and by being open and available to allowing them into your life.  Your relationship deepens and matures as your hearts become vulnerable to one another.  Prayer is the starting point.  Reading the Gospels allows the life of Christ to unfold in words.  Mass is the public prayer of the Church and frequent Holy Communion brings the very life of God into our hearts.  We call this “grace.”  We were made for it.  Our lives have meaning through it.  Our eternity depends on it.


Jesus says to us, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest”(John 10:10).  Imagine that for a moment.  He came to earth as a little baby for us.  Why?  Because our first parents had broken our relationship with God and He loved us and missed us.  He wanted us back with Him.  And so He came.  Why?  So that we may have life.  Life!  Because without Him, all we have is existence—passing time in a body until death claims us.  But with Christ comes life.  We live with meaning and purpose.  We awake from the stupor of our self-centeredness and inhale the rich, deep, everlasting essence of God’s love for us.  We’re alive!  Fullness of life, too.  Not just merely life, but life to the full. Life lived for Christ and in Christ is fully-lived.


From a piece of toast to eternal happiness in the love of Jesus Christ — sometimes I wonder how my mind works.  Perhaps you do, too.  But if you’ve read this far, I think it’s a safe bet that you’re a fellow pilgrim on the journey with Christ.  We are His disciples, set free through the Cross to love Him and our neighbor with a heart overflowing with His grace.  He didn’t promise us an easy road, but He did promise to always be with us along the way.  He made us to long for Him.  He created us to yearn for His love and grace.  And He wants nothing less than everything you are.  Rejoice!


“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

                                                                     —St. Augustine