A Joyful Saint

His father didn’t think much of him. He was always being overlooked and forgotten especially when his older brothers were around. His dad had an important job and was anxious that his boys follow in his footsteps. All but the youngest. His dad didn’t even like to let him eat his meals with the family. Pretty soon, the young boy stayed away from the house most of the time. That’s why he wasn’t at home when the great man came.

Samuel was a prophet of God and it was God Who had sent him to Jesse’s house. Samuel was sent looking for the next king of Israel and God had told him to look for him among Jesse’s sons. But after he’d seen all of the them, the prophet was still seeking the one God wanted as king. The older sons that Jesse was so proud of, just hadn’t measured up. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but The Lord looks at the heart”(I Samuel 16:7). Jesse finally admitted that he had one more son—the youngest, who was out in the fields tending sheep. When the boy came into the room, The Lord told Samuel, “Rise up, anoint him, for this is the one!”(I Samuel 16:6-12). When St. Luke tells us the story, he says the Lord’s thoughts were these: “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will”(Acts 13:22). David’s own mother said something remarkable at the moment of his anointing: “The stone that was reviled by the builders has now become the cornerstone”(Psalms 118:22). Later, Jesus will use these very words to describe His own life (Matthew 21:42).

God says David is a man after His own heart and calls them each “the cornerstone.” Surely David is someone very beloved by God. And yet we know the flaws in David’s heart, don’t we? He looked with lust on another man’s wife and arranged for him to be killed so that David could have her for himself. This adultery and murder haunted him for the rest of his life. David loved God and God’s law and he knew the depths of his sins. His sorrow and repentance were genuine. David always looked to God for strength and for mercy. He was thankful for God’s abundant blessings. David wrote many of the Psalms, which reveal all the emotions of his life. For me, the Psalms are a great lesson in learning how to pray. David hid nothing from God and the Psalms are full of sorrow and of joy, of gratitude and of repentance. They’re also replete with frustration and anger, regret and vengeance. Whatever David was feeling, he shared with The Lord.

If David was a man after God’s own heart, it was this openness and sharing that God truly loves. David sinned but he asked for mercy. He repented. He praised. He doubted. He gave thanks. His heart and soul were always open to God. Though he was a flawed man, like each one of us, David never allowed his faults and sins to turn him away from God. He kept praying. He kept praising. He kept asking God what He wanted of him. This is David’s great lesson for each one of us. No matter what, keep talking to God. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t censor your prayers, but let The Lord into every moment of your life. There’s no sin that’s beyond His mercy. There’s nothing you’ve done that could make Him love you less. David reminds us that God can do amazing things even with those of us who feel forgotten or overlooked, too sinful or unworthy, or just nothing special. The Lord can make His home in our heart, if we allow Him. A shepherd boy can become a giant-killer and a great king. His family can produce the Savior of us all. And David danced before The Lord because he couldn’t contain his joyful love of God. May we look to the New Year through David’s eyes, placing all our trust in Him.

“My arms wave like banners of praise to You.”
——Psalm 63

Saints Alive

We’ve all seen those reality shows that follow the celebrity-of-the-minute in their daily lives. Most of them have one or more personal assistants. These are the people that do all the real work around the place. They organize and schedule, they burp the babies and clean the house, thus allowing the celebrity to get their hair and makeup done (also by someone else), have an overly-dramatic love life and generally lounge about eating organic, free-range, calorie-free bon-bons.

But I’ve got those reality stars beat. And by a long shot. You see I have an entire group of people working for me. All of them pull 24-hour shifts with no vacations or sick leave. They never complain, never dawdle, and each one of them is faithful, funny, filled with joy and completely unique. They’re my “heavenly committee” of the saints that I love. Just as we ask our friends and family to pray for you, I ask my committee to take my prayers with them to Jesus. After all, these are the folks who love Jesus with their whole hearts and whose earthly lives showed us how to walk with Christ each and every day, through every trial and sorrow and every grace and blessing. Each one of them reveals His mercy and love in different ways to me and they teach me humility and patience and surrender. I can’t imagine my life without their friendship and assistance.

God created us for relationships. He never meant for us to go it alone. God IS relationship, after all, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs. He founded a Church made up of believers coming together for prayer and worship. We’re bound to one another in the love of the Holy Spirit, both in this life and our lives-to-come with Him in heaven. Since about the year 100 A.D., the practice of asking those in heaven to pray for us had become a common one. St. John wrote about it in Revelation 5:8 when he says that the saints in heaven offer our prayer to God “as golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Since saints in glory are in complete communion with theLord, those prayers have to be for us. When we ask them to pray for our needs, God hears them and it pleases Him. Just like He hears the prayers of our family and friends on earth. Do you have prayer partners or prayer chains or teams in your church? They are doing exactly what the saints are doing—offering prayers for you to God. Jesus told us to pray for one another (Matthew 5:44) as did St. Paul (I Timothy 2:1-4). It’s good for us to do this. It’s an act of love.

Catholics don’t worship the saints. Asking them to pray for us is as “natural” as asking a friend to pray for us. The statues and paintings and stained glass images of the saints you see in our churches are reminders to us of their lives and examples. It’s like the photos you carry in your wallet to remind you of your family and friends. You don’t worship the photos, you just like being reminded of your love for the people in them. Saints aren’t divine. They’re not angels. They’re people like you and me who are alive in heaven—just like we hope to be someday. After all, each of us is called to sainthood.

Even if you don’t come from a Christian tradition like Catholicism or the Eastern Orthodox Church, why wouldn’t you want the saints in heaven to be praying for you and your family? These are the members of our faith who got it right, who ran the good race and who live now in the very presence of God for all eternity. I’d like to invite everyone reading these words to learn about a saint whose life interests them. Allow Jesus to introduce you to His closest family. You can start with “my committee” if you’d like.

There’s St. Therese of Lisieux who teaches me how to love Jesus as a little child loves her Daddy. St. Catherine of Siena helps me to have courage and to find answers to my questions about my faith. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a priest who gave his own life for a fellow prisoner while they were in the death camp in Auschwitz. He teaches me charity and sacrifice. St. Pio of Pietrelcino (Padre Pio) teaches me to let God be in charge and to ask for miracles every day. There are lots of other saints that I love as well, but googling these names should get you started. They’re waiting to take your prayers, like a golden bowl of incense, and present your praise and your needs to our Lord. Just ask them. 

“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from heaven. I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
—St. Therese of Lisieux
(1873 – 1897)

Your Online Faith

Do you have a Facebook page?  You probably do.  If you’re “of a certain age” you probably signed up for it so you could keep up with your kids and grandkids.  If you’re like me, maybe you were also able to reconnect with some of your high school and college friends that you’d lost touch with over the years.  You check in every few days and see the latest photos and status updates and maybe you play a game or two.  But you really don’t take Facebook too seriously. How about Twitter?  Have you signed on to follow your favorite celebrities or sports stars?  In the world the “Twitterverse” is an active, ever-changing landscape of political news, reduced to 140 characters.  It’s a fun and mostly-harmless way to catch the latest news an occasionally put in your two-cents worth.  You don’t take Twitter too seriously.

But if you aren’t valuing social media you might be missing out.  Like it or not, social media is where much of our common societal discourse occurs.  In many ways, social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs have taken the place of the op-ed page of the newspaper.  It’s where we gather together in the digital age. Immediate and worldwide, it’s where people connect, discuss, form opinions, challenge thoughts and pass on what’s important to them.  Like anything else, social media is a tool and how you use it and what you use it for determines its value.  It’s like learning to speak a new language.  It takes practice, including knowing when to talk and when to listen.  And social media can’t be a substitute for personal, face-to-face relationships.  But if you’;re a Christian, I think you need to include social media in your evangelization.

I’m a Catholic writer and blogger with both Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Most everything I post is about faith.  But most of you reading this probably use social media for staying in touch with friends and family.  What better place to share your faith than with the people in your life?  Now before you say, “But I’m not a writer,” or “I wouldn’t know where to begin” —-let me offer you a starting place.  This is an idea that’s been around the net for a while, but I think it’s a good starting point.          

Tithe your posts and tweets.  That’s right, I said “tithe.”  As Christians, we already know the Biblical history of tithing our treasure to God.  A tithe was a tenth of the animals and produce which the Israelites gave to the Lord’s Temple.  We’re called to share a tenth of our gross income with the Church.  Why not also dedicate a tenth of your postings and tweets to the Lord’s work?  Being a Christian means living and sharing our faith with others.  What better place to share the Good News than where everyone is already gathering?  You don’t have to be a theologian or priest or Biblical scholar.  Start out small.  Share your favorite faith author or book.  Post a link to the author or the book, but make sure it’s a working link.  Learn how to copy and paste URL addresses if you don’t already know.  Share a link to your favorite ministry or charity.  You’ll educate others about their work and the charity might benefit from a visitor’s donation, too.  Share Scripture quotes that are meaningful to you, but don’t just post a verse.  Tell your readers why this verse is important to you and how it’s helped enrich your faith life.  If you post verses without connecting them to your relationship with Christ, you’ll miss out on making that person-to-person connection that’s at the heart of ministry.

Wow.  Did I just say “ministry”?  Yep.  Using social media to share the Gospel can be a ministry just like leading a prayer group or making sandwiches for a soup kitchen.  Post a prayer need you might have.  It can be something you want to share with others, or it can remain a private prayer intention.  Be a witness to what Christ is doing in your life or in the greater life of your family or your parish.  Don’t be shy about sharing both the hills and the valleys of your faith journey.  You’re already sharing your vacations, family weddings, graduations and celebrations online—share your faith in Christ as well.  And remember I suggested this was a tithing experience.  Begin by sharing a tenth of your online presence to God.  You’ll be transformed when you invite Christ into your online life.  You’ll be a witness to the Gospel.  You’ll be enriched by the feedback you’ll get from others.  But be wary, too.  Sharing your faith means you’ll be challenged at times.  You might even be ridiculed and mocked.  Social media has a strong anti-faith presence.  So be wary, but be fearless.  Be like the Apostles and boldly share your love for Christ.  Sow the seeds of the Good News in your corner of the internet and pray that the Holy Spirit will allow them to take root and bear good fruit.  Working together for Him, we can help use the internet for His great purpose.

“In the world, you will have trouble.  But have courage; I have conquered the world.”

—The Gospel of St. John 16:33

The Gift of Lent

One of the many great things about being a Catholic is that we have a rhythm in our faith lives.  Each season of the Church evokes a different spirit within us and our worship is enriched and deepened by the regular changes in focus and feel.  In Advent, we prepare for the gift of Jesus at Christmas.  During Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s coming as the great Light foretold for generations.  Today begins another season, that of Lent.  You probably saw various news reports this week about Mardi Gras celebrations around the country.  Unfortunately, most people have lost the connection between “Fat Tuesday” and Ash Wednesday.  The celebration of Carnival, literally “leaving meat”, originated as a kind of counterweight to the austerity of Lent.  Carnival also points to the exuberance of Easter and the joy of the Resurrection, which is still yet to come.  During Lent, we journey with Christ, walking to Jerusalem with Him, as He prepares for His Passion and Death on the Cross.

St. Augustine helps us to understand what Lent is all about when he writes:  “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire.  You do not see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when He comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied.”  Lent is an exercise of this holy desire.  Most of the time, our lives seem to be filled with the “distractions” of everyday living:  work, problems, and anything that takes our minds off our work and our problems.  None of these things are bad in themselves, but they can keep us from seeing what we really long for.  Lent is a time to put aside some of these diversions and get in touch with the true Object of our longing that St. Augustine wrote about.

Jesus is our hearts’ desire and we can know His heart by spending prayerful time in the Gospels.  He shows us there how can be like Him and how we can know and serve God.  This is our Lenten journey.  Christ is our example of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — the three traditional pathways we walk during Lent.  His withdrawal into prayer, His practice of fasting and His acts of charity, mercy, and healing should be our Lenten exercises as well.  When we abstain from meat on Fridays, when we spend regular time in prayer, especially in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and when we reach out to help others, we are putting aside some of the selfish diversions of our lives.  When we imitate Christ in these ways, we allow Him to change our hearts and we prepare to honor what He has done for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

We each choose what we will get out of every Lent.  As we are marked today with ashes on our foreheads, we hear the words of the priest urging us to turn from our sin and return to the Gospel of Christ.  How we choose to do this, to turn our hearts to God, is up to us.  This turning back to God, in Greek “metanoia”, is what we do every Lent and we do it again today–in the midst of all the diversions in our lives, in the midst of our own sinfulness.  God comes always to fetch us back to Himself, to our hearts’ desire, our holy longing for union with Him.  “God means to fill each of you with what is good, so cast out what is bad!  If He wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go?  The vessel must be emptied of its’ contents and then cleansed.”  St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

Lent is a season of cleansing and of preparation. It’s a time of putting things aside and clearing things out so that we can once again see what and Who is most important to us. Lent can be a “spring cleaning” of the heart and it can reveal to us the rooms inside that we’ve not yet invited Christ to come into. Renewing and refreshing, Lent is a joyful time if we only allow our Lord to take control and fill us with His holy love.