A Holy Reminder

It’s just a little country church on a hill. One brick building with a dozen or so parking spots, way out in the boondocks. But that lot is very often full to overflowing with cars while kids are playing basketball and families are gathering under the picnic pavilion. The church has a prayer box near the parking entrance where anyone who wants to can drop in a prayer request to share with their congregation. This time each year, they sell pumpkins to raise funds for their various programs. It’s beautiful to see that grassy hill covered with hundreds of orange pumpkins. And they have one outreach program that always catches my eye—their church sign.

You know those messages that many churches post on their signs? Sometimes it’s a BIble verse, or maybe a faith-based pun (Know Jesus. Know peace. No Jesus. No peace). The messages are often forgettable and all-too-frequently misspelled. But this little church gets them right. They’re thought-provoking and original and they never fail to get my attention. Their messages make me think of Jesus. That’s a pretty effective ministry for a tiny country church. This week, the sign reads: “Everything God says is an expression of love.”

Sure. As Christians, we know that God loves us. He sent His only Son to save us from our sins. His grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9). The Bible is a love story of how our God created a universe for us, made us His children through Christ and will meet us face-to-face in a heaven that will surpass all our ideas of beauty and love.

But wait a minute. The Bible is also full of heartache and suffering. There are plagues and wars and famine. Families (including the very first one) are torn apart by sin and murder. Whole cities are destroyed by God’s wrath. How can we read about these horrors and believe the church sign, that everything God says is an expression of love? It’s easy to believe in love when we read about the birth of Jesus and the feeding of the multitude and see Jesus healing the sick and raising the dead. It’s more difficult to believe in that love when we read about lakes of fire and awful diseases and the deaths of all those firstborn sons.

This is because God’s plan for us is like the plans of any good parent for their children. Sometimes the things we want are bad for us, so God says, “no.” Anything that distracts us from our “best” is a sin and we know that sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). When the Lord says “no” to our plans, it isn’t to make us feel bad or to frustrate us, but to help us conform our will to His will. You see, His plans for us are so infinitely better than anything we could ever imagine. We’re like little children who chafe and whine when mom or dad won’t give us all the candy we want, all day long, every day of the week. All we can know, with our child’s mind, is that life is cruel and unfair and our parents must hate us for keeping the candy hidden away from us.

The truth is, God loves us in everything, in all circumstances, in every trial and in all our sufferings. He looks on us with longing to know us better and a desire to spend an eternity in our presence. This is the love of our Lord Who is Love Himself. How much He loves us is there on the Crucifix, is there in the cup of His Blood and in the Bread that is His Body in Holy Communion. It is in the marriage feast of the Lamb that He is preparing for you and for me at this very moment in heaven (Revelation 19:6-9). From Eden to Armageddon, God’s every word and action and plan is one of unfolding and unfailing love. I need reminding of this. And the little church in the country did that for me this week. Your sign and your messages bless me and I know they bless others as well. Thank you for reminding me of the good news of His love.


“Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man; God does nothing without this goal in mind.”
—–St. Catherine of Siena
(1347 – 1380)

A Call to Prayer

Sharing this space and my thoughts with you each week makes me very grateful. It’s an honor and a privilege to come into your lives for a few moments. I hope that my words here are informative and I pray that each of my readers can come away knowing how much they are loved by the Lord Who has made us all in His image. I know that many of you do not share my Catholic faith. My hope is that you can learn more of what the Catholic Church teaches through my writing. So much of what folks think that we believe is not true after all. As Christians, we all share a rich and precious faith. This brings me to my thoughts for this week.

I’d like to ask you to pray. In whatever way and with whatever words you choose, pray. Our world, our country, and our neighborhoods are in desperate need of God’s guiding hand. I don’t need to tell you about the many wars and conflicts we see in the news. So many of our Christian brothers and sisters are being tortured and killed for their faith. There are dozens of tyrants and terrorist groups who want nothing more than to kill anyone who won’t bow to their will and their beliefs. In our own country are people waiting in the shadows, biding their time for a chance to rise up and make the headlines. Many of our own neighborhoods are torn apart by gangs who see human life as a cheap commodity with little or no value. Playground fights are settled with guns now and not fist fights. People are attacked on the streets and in their cars simply for being there. Buildings are torched. Police officers are targeted for murder, because they wear a badge.

 

And apart from the violence and suffering in the word is the terror and pain so many of us feel within our own hearts. Every sin wounds us, wounds our families, and wounds our world. And so, today, as you’re reading this, I’d ask you to begin to pray.

“Lord, help us to be grateful for all that You’ve given us. Thank you for Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the gift of His Holy Cross. We ask You to forgive our sins and to help us to hate sin as You do. We know that Your mercy is an ocean of love and forgiveness. Heal us, Lord, and heal our hurting world……”

Please continue to pray in your own words, for the needs of your family, our nation, and our world. I believe that our prayers are heard. I believe that God loves us to pray and wants us to share our hearts with Him. Thank you for your prayers and for the privilege of sharing this journey with you.

“We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend upon material success…but on Jesus alone.”

— St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Sometimes Prayer Is Hard

The longer I write the more I realize how much writing is like prayer. Writing is something that connects me with God and allows me to hear His voice. Like prayer, writing is a habit that has to be developed over time and like prayer sometimes it doesn’t come easily. Both actions are disciplines of the spirit and both can help us to grow in holiness. Being holy means being the person God intends you to be. Writing helps me to use a gift He gave me and to use it to glorify Him. Like prayer, writing requires preparation and work. Of course we’re not all called to be writers. Many are given much greater gifts. But all Christians are called to pray. In fact I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t pray you aren’t a follower of Christ.  Prayer has to be at the center of our lives. Our faith is based on our relationship with Jesus and without prayer, we can’t know Him.

So if God made prayer so central to His plan for our salvation, why can it sometimes be so hard to pray?  After all, if He made our hearts in such a way that we yearn to know Him, you’d think prayer would come as naturally to us as breathing. Sometimes it does. Most of us are great at praying when we find ourselves in a jam. Up against the wall. At the end of our ropes. Between a rock and a hard place. Remember the old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes. When life–ours or someone we love–is on the line, we’re filled with the need to pray. Our words and pleas and promises to Him overflow and we talk with Him nonstop. That is, until the crisis passes. When the terror of the moment is over, many of us quickly revert to our non-prayerful ways. Perhaps a few of us will experience that crisis as an invitation to a continuing relationship with God. That brush with whatever terror we experienced (death, divorce, unemployment, war, homelessness, etc.) may have opened our hearts to hear Him and allowed Him to draw us close.  Most of us, however, are drawn to the Lord through the regular, everyday, even unexciting details of our daily lives. The Church, in her wisdom, has made most of our liturgical year into “ordinary” time. And while ordinary time refers to those numbered Sundays outside feast and penance, it’s a reminder to us that we can and should encounter God in the regular rhythms of our daily lives.

Consider a significant relationship in your life. Maybe it’s your spouse or a good friend or a sibling you’re especially close to. I’ll bet some of the most meaningful moments you’ve experienced with them are when you’re just enjoying an ordinary day in their presence. Deep love and intimacy are often revealed most clearly in everyday moments. Sharing a meal. Watching a sunset. Being comfortable and at ease in the silent company of a person you love and who loves you back. If that’s true in our human relationships, we can also see that in our prayer relationship with Jesus. The times we can feel most closely-engaged with Him in prayer can be in spontaneous and simple ways each day. The ordinary-ness of our daily prayers are no less valuable than those dramatic, emotionally-charges prayerful “highs” that are few and far between.

The saints tell us a lot about prayer. After all, being saints, we know that their relationship with Jesus bore great and eternal spiritual fruit. Look at St. Joseph of Cupertino. His prayer life was so extraordinary that he frequently levitated several feet off the floor during prayer. But few of us fly around the room during prayers. St. Francis of Assisi, and in our own century, St. Padre Pio both bore the stigmata or the wounds of Christ as they prayed. St. Isidore and St. Alphonse’s Liguori often appeared in two distant places at the same time while at prayer. But these are the exceptions.

Most saints were like most of us. Sometimes prayer came easily and made them feel close to God. But at other times prayer was a chore. Many of the saints experienced spiritual deserts where their prayer lives seemed pointless and felt as if God had left them alone. We know that St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta struggled with this. For many years she experienced a “dark night of the soul” in her prayer life. Yet no one doubts her spiritual greatness or the fruits of her vocation. This woman knew Jesus well.

We’re each unique creations. Each one of our journeys with Christ is a unique calling. Some of us may fly in ecstasy to Him but the majority of us won’t. We’ll come to know Him in the daily routines of our ordinary lives, sometimes in joyful exuberance and sometimes in peaceful silence. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t think you’re “doing it right.”  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray. And keep at it. Go to Mass and Confession. Fast. And don’t wait to start praying. The only way to get better at it is to pray.

“I pray because I’m helpless.”    —C. S. Lewis

The Voice Of The World

“There are days when you just don’t think you can go on. You’re exhausted but there’s no end to what you have to do. Each day is like a treadmill that’s running on high speed and it’s all you can do to keep up. If you could only have some time to rest, to recover, and to catch your breath. You don’t think you can make it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You feel so bad that it had happened–that you had done it. What had you been thinking? It makes you feel so guilty and you hate remembering it. Who could ever love you if they knew about it? You hate yourself for it. There’s nothing you could do to make things right again. It’s like a terrible weight that you’re forced to carry all by yourself.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“She’s one of your closest friends, so you have to help her out with this. She needs your support. She says it would wreck her career right now. After all, it won’t be her first one. The whole thing will be over in just a few hours. You can drive her to her appointment and be home in time for dinner. It’s her body. And, after all, everyone says it’s just a clump of cells.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You just can’t stand to listen to him anymore. He stands for everything you can’t and won’t tolerate. He believes his opinions are the only correct ones. Every election season is horrible because he disagrees with everything you say to him. How can anybody be that stupid? This friendship just isn’t worth it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“What a sexist pig! He must think that the only reason women exist in the world is for his pleasure. He could never view a woman as his intellectual equal. He won’t even have dinner alone with a woman, except for his wife. What a disrespectful attitude to women!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“She’s there every day on the sidewalk outside. Filthy, dirty, and smelling so bad it’s almost unbearable. There are shelters for people like her, so why won’t she go to one? You never put any money in her old coffee can. She’d probably just use it to buy a cheap bottle of wine. You wish she’d move to a different spot so you wouldn’t have to see her every day. What a waste!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

How often do we listen to the voice of the world rather than to the words of our loving Savior? Perhaps because we allow the world to drone in through television and social media. We run from the silence in which we need to dwell in order to hear the whisper of God. But the Lord is always near us, longing to be heard and to listen; longing to reassure us of His love and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less; nothing we need fear from going to Him in repentance. He invites us to forgive others, to see and to support the poor among us, to stand up for life and for marriage. Only God can give us the peace and the rest that we’re looking for. Easter is the promise of His love fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sound of the stone rolling away from the tomb can silence the clamor and noise of the world, if we allow it. Listen for the His voice especially during these days of division and strife. He is peace. He is love.  

“…in the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world.”

          —John 16:33 

Why Go To Confession?

There’s a moment of high drama played out at the end of every criminal trial in America. After all the evidence has been presented and all the arguing has been done, the jury presents their findings to the court. The defendant stands to hear the verdict read. The courtroom is silent. And the verdict is pronounced. Will it be guilty or not guilty? How many of our favorite books and movies have hinged on that breathless moment of judgement? From Perry Mason to Atticus Finch to the real-life drama of the O.J. Simpson trial, those dramatic revelations are part of our cultural experience. Of course, if you happen to be the defendant on trial, all this high drama wouldn’t be nearly so entertaining. Imagine being in a situation where your life is on the line for something you’re accused of doing. Where you’ll spend the rest of your days depends on the verdict that’s about to be read. And there’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s out of your hands.  

I wonder if many people envision a similar scene when God judges us. A celestial courtroom with God as THE JUDGE. He looks at us and we can’t return His gaze. All the sins of our lives are the evidence against us. We tremble and quake. Despite our faith, we stand in fear of His righteous judgement. We know that God’s love for us sent Jesus to live as one of us and to die on the Cross to save us from our sins. We know that we are His prodigal children, loved and forgiven. And yet, we sometimes are afraid to approach Him for the mercy and love that He longs to give us. We imagine a courtroom scene even though we’ve been shown the embrace of our merciful Savior on the Cross.  

When we sin, we can fall into a few misunderstandings about God’s mercy. We can believe, falsely, that God isn’t offended by our sin and so we don’t need the Sacrament of Confession. Or we can believe, also falsely, that our sin is so dark and horrible that God would never forgive us, so why go to Confession at all? In the first case, we’re rejecting what Christ teaches us about Confession. (John 20: 21-23; James 5: 14-17; Matthew 16:19). And when we believe our sins to be greater than God’s mercy, we put ourselves above Him, judging Him instead to be less than all-merciful. He reminds us often in Scripture that His love and mercy will always be available to us (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:2-3; I John 1:9; Acts 3:19). When we recognize our sin (which is a grace given by God) and we repent and go to Confession, His mercy is abundant, every single time.

Jesus created Confession because He knew that we need to speak our sins aloud to another human being It’s part of the healing aspect of the Sacrament. And yet, it is Christ Himself Whom we meet in the confessional and it is His Mercy which forgives our sins. Unlike in a human “courtroom,” the confessional is never a place of condemnation or shame. It is the fount of life itself. We are always found “forgiven” and, through God’s grace, our sins are forgotten. Many may believe that Confession isn’t necessary if we ask God’s forgiveness “in our hearts.” But this isn’t what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness. As a former Baptist, I can assure you that Confession is a treasure of God’s grace. If you’ve been away from Confession, this season of Lent is a wonderful time to come back. Pray that God will make you aware of your sins and then go to Confession. The priest won’t judge you, nor will he be shocked by any of your sins—he’s heard everything. You’ll experience God’s love and forgiveness in his words of absolution. I can tell you that Confession is one of the greatest gifts of Christ to His Church—don’t go another day without it.  

“Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves. One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in Confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”

                 —Pope Francis  

A Witness to Truth

I see her standing there almost every week. She’s alone except for her little brown dog, on the same corner each time, across the street from the hospital. When I turn next to where she stands, she looks at me. Not with a glance, but with a solid, almost searching look, like she really sees me and not just another driver in what must be hundreds of cars that pass her by. At first, that eye contact was a little creepy. I thought, surely she can’t look so hard at every driver—so why me? But now, after many months of seeing here there, alone and persistent, I seek out her eyes as I drive past. We look at one another. I slow down, I smile. She smiles. And then I’m past her, until the next week.

This woman on that corner of that busy sidewalk, across from the hospital, has a ministry. Her part of the Lord’s vineyard is in the full hot sun of summer and the cold, biting winds of winter. He’s called her to be a silent witness to the horrors of abortion, and she’s faithfully answered that call. She holds a simple, homemade sign that reads, “Abortion is Murder: Repent.” And each day that she stands there, she reminds people of the reality of what abortion really is. Not a choice, but a murder of an innocent life. I don’t know her name, but I know what she’s done for me.

She’s convicted me. I can say that I’m “pro-life” but seeing her standing there, week after week, month after month, in all kinds of weather, makes me know—deep in my heart—that I need to do more. When I first saw here there on the corner, that’s what was creepy. It was as if when she looked at me, she could see that I wasn’t doing enough. Her ministry, her witness, is bearing fruit in my heart. And that’s a good thing.

So what does “doing more” really mean? I can refuse to be silent when those around me discuss abortion “rights.” I can be a greater voice in defense of unborn children. Speaking up can be uncomfortable if this means being at odds with your family and friends. But I have to do this. Doing more means actively opposing euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, too. I can’t be pro-life and at the same time, support actions that cause innocent deaths. Doing more means supporting elected officials who protect and defend human life. I know many Catholics for whom this is not a deciding factor when they go to the polls to vote. For this Catholic, it certainly IS a deciding factor.

Doing more means using social media to support and defend the dignity of human life. What I post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter reflects what’s important to me and mirrors my faith and my belief about the gift of life. What I write here does the same thing. What could be more important than standing up for the defenseless? Maybe I’ll get unfriended by some on Facebook or unfollowed by folks on Twitter—it’s a very small price to pay.

Doing more means praying more and giving more financial support to those agencies and ministries who provide prenatal and delivery care to moms who need it. I can reach out to women and men who have suffered abortion and make them welcome in my parish. I can participate in pro-life work in my diocese including the “Forty Days for Life” events and rosary prayer chains. Doing more, in the end, means being less concerned about what others think and being more committed to the truth of my Church and my Savior. I can be a greater voice for the unborn child and for those whose voices are weak and hard to hear due to age or frailty, imprisonment or fear. The lady on the corner with her homemade sign is doing her part in building the Kingdom of God. Is God calling me to stand with her? I don’t know yet. Maybe. Maybe not. But she’s done her part by planting that seed. I trust in the Holy Spirit to help it grow in me and I pray for the courage to do HIs will.

“Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”
—–Ronald Reagan

Young Hearts

A young man that I know is considering becoming a Catholic priest.  He’s a junior at a fine college, studying electrical engineering.  He’s been offered graduate scholarships to some of this country’s most prestigious universities.  He’s handsome, athletic, and has a great sense of humor.  In short, he’s one of those guys you could easily imagine happily married with kids, making a six-figure salary and living in a gated community on a golf course.  But he believes that God has called him to another kind of life, a radically different life.  He believes that Jesus Christ has called him to the priesthood.  While his friends are dating and planning for life and work after college, this young man spends his weekends visiting seminaries and volunteering at a local soup kitchen. 

 

Two thousand years ago, a group of men also heard the call of God to His greater purpose.  Simple men, flawed and imperfect men, whose “yes” to God changed the world.  They left their lives, their jobs and their families and, owning almost nothing, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving and hostile world.  For living out their call, they were imprisoned and tortured.  All but one of them was killed for their belief in Christ.  Their lives were laid down for the Savior they loved and Who had loved and died for them.  Looking at this young man I know, I can see some of that same commitment and faith which empowered the Apostles to become more than the fishermen or tax collectors they had been before their calling.  Does that make this young man unusual in today’s world?  I don’t think so. 

 

Young people want to change the world.  They want to give themselves over to a great cause that will give meaning and purpose to their lives.  So why are so few young people being called to religious life today?  Why do we have a shortage of priests in America?  In my own opinion, it’s because we Catholics aren’t teaching our children the Gospel of Christ.  To begin with, we don’t know our own faith well enough to discuss it with our children.  We can’t expect a couple of hours of religious education classes each week to ground our kids in the faith the Apostles died for.  We have to know and to live out our faith each day as examples to them.  When they come to us with questions about Jesus or His Church, we need to give them the right answers, or at least know where to find the right answers.  Talking about Christ and our faith should be a natural part of family life, as natural as talking about school or sports.  And yet how many of us have talked with our kids about Christ during the last week?

 

While family life is the garden that grows vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the larger Church also has to live up to her responsibility as the depository of our faith.  Sunday homilies need to challenge us more.  We need to leave Mass inspired by the truth of Christ and convicted of the changes we need to make in our lives in order to live out the truth of His Gospel.  We need more Jesus and less Oprah, more courage to live as Christ and less fear that what we say or do as Christians might offend someone.  Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to hear, but truth is what saves us and transfigures us into the God we adore.  The Church needs to focus less on appearing “relevant” to a modern congregation and courageously proclaim Christ crucified.  If we preach the Gospel, we’ll have vocations to the priesthood.  If we live out that Gospel, we won’t be able to build enough seminaries to hold all the men called to serve Christ and His Church.  We need fearless leadership within the Catholic Church in this country, to stand up for the Gospel, to challenge the Church to preach Jesus Christ to the modern world.  As Catholics, we should pray that God will send us this leadership, these shepherds who can guide us out of the doldrums of the past generation.  Throughout the history of our Church, God has raised up Saints among us whenever His Bride is in need of reformation.  May our prayer for the Church our children will inherit be:  “Lord, send us your Saints!”

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”    —Proverbs 29:18

A Summer Afternoon

When the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, there’s something inside many of us that begs us to relax, to put our feet up…and do absolutely nothing. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe it’s just that every moment of our busy days makes us long for some relief from it, for just a few minutes of down time. Whatever the cause of it, we need to pay attention to that call of our built-in laziness.

What??? Lazy is never a good thing, right? Well, maybe and maybe not. I’m not suggesting that we shirk all our responsibilities forever but just that we “unschedule” ourselves on a regular basis. We need to create some time where no one is expecting us to be anywhere or do anything for a bit. The only expectation is that we’ll open our hearts and minds to whatever the Lord may want to lead us. We’re going to waste some time with Jesus.

This is something that we can see the followers of Jesus doing with Him as they enjoyed listening and asking questions. We can imagine how HIs words would have stirred them, making them question their decisions and evaluate how they were living their lives. Some were drawn closer to Jesus and committed their lives to Him. Their faith was always rewarded. Their time with Christ became the treasure in their lives. This is what He offers each one of us. But we’ll never know that closeness if we don’t spend time with Him, listening.  

First, get your Bible and read one chapter in one of the Gospels. Any chapter of any Gospel. Pick your favorite or find one that has always challenged your understanding. Read it. Now read it again, more slowly. Focus on Jesus’ words. Now imagine yourself being there, in the moment with Jesus. Imagine Him talking directly to you, looking you in the eyes. How does His gaze make you feel? What people in your own life come into your thoughts as He’s looking at you? How are His words inviting you to live?

Make a list of all the people that you are praying for. Now add to that list all the people who have hurt you, betrayed you, lied about you, abandoned you, or have been a stumbling block for you. These people will become the treasures of your prayer life. Offering prayers on behalf of those who have hurt you is a sure source of grace. Nothing pleases our Lord more than seeing His children live out His teachings of love and forgiveness. By our prayers, we reveal our wounded hearts to Him and He never fails to heal us, forgive us, and draw us back to Him.  

Once you’ve prayed for all the folks on your list, you’re ready to spend time with God “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:18). This is how our first parents came to know God in the Garden. They opened their hearts and listened. They enjoyed each other’s company. How wonderful that time with God was and how beautiful that He offers that same sort of time to each one of us. He not only offers that experience to us, He craves it. God wants to spend time with each of us. He longs for us to invite Him in to every moment of our lives. So set aside a lazy afternoon to “waste” some time with the Lord. You’ll never regret giving those hours to Him. You’ll be revived and refreshed and hopefully you’ll want to schedule more “unscheduled” hours for prayer and reflection. 

“Faith is that profound conviction that God is with us and for us.” 

                     —Unkn

Don’t Be Fooled

It feels good at first. When you’ve been feeling bad about yourself or a bit depressed about how your life is going, it feels good to hear someone tell you that there’s a different way to live. When your hear that you’re a good person, an amazing person and that you can have anything in the world that your heart desires—well, that’s heady stuff. It’s like coming in from a freezing cold blizzard and being wrapped up in a great big warm, fuzzy blanket. It feels SO good.

And that’s a problem. It’s all about making you feel better, and nothing about making you a saint. This brand of Christianity is popular in America these days. You can find it on your tv any time day or night. It goes by different names, but it’s generally called some version of the “prosperity gospel.” It bears little resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid out in Holy Scripture. Most Christians profess that Jesus came to save us from our sins through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We believe that His love and mercy was poured out for us on the Cross and we look to that same Cross as the source of our hope, And we know that Jesus tells us “…whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  

One of the tenets of this prosperity movement (and how it got its name) is that your faith will bring you worldly wealth and happiness. You are told to speak to God about your wants and to claim them as your own.This “naming and claiming” is a very modern twist on God’s benevolence. Throughout the history of Christianity, believers who did as Jesus tells us and took up their crosses, found sanctity through His example. Jesus was poor, homeless, humble, despised, tortured and brutally killed. All but one (St. John) of His Apostles were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Over the centuries thousands of Christians have been put to death for believing in Jesus Christ. It is happening this very day.  

The lives of these martyrs make no sense if you look through the lens of earthly prosperity preachers. Try to imagine applying “name it and claim it” as you face torture and death. You can’t do it because it isn’t part of God’s plan. If we pick up that cross and follow Him, we must expect to walk the path He walked. We must expect to suffer and to embrace suffering as a key to our sanctification . St. Paul tells us that suffering goes hand in hand with following Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him, but also suffer for His sake”(Phil 1:29). Are we to believe that St. Paul got it all wrong? And not only Paul, but the other Gospel writers and Apostles as well.

This is why you’ll rarely hear the prosperity preachers talk about the Cross, the Crucifixion, suffering, sin, pain, repentance, or sacrifice. None of this fits with their vision of God, whom they have reduced to a kindly uncle with an unlimited bank account. This is a small god and not the God of Calvary, Who requires nothing less of us than everything. But in that Cross IS everything—eternal life in Christ. The Gospel isn’t about making you feel good about yourself. The Gospel is a call to lay our lives at the foot of the Cross and to enter into the life of Christ. The Gospel is meant to transform our lives in this world so that we may share God’s eternal life in the next world. That transformation, if we believe the Gospel, is going to be painful. Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is worth walking that broken road with Him. It’s what the Apostles and the Saints have done. And their reward? So much more than a big house and earthly wealth. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Don’t allow them to try and make God over in their own image, into some kind of personal shopper. Turn off the tv and read the Gospels. Discover the love of the great I AM and His plan for your life. Do not be afraid! 

“They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.”

      ——Flannery O’Connor

What’s Getting In Your Way?

It’s the longest dialogue Jesus has with anyone in any of the Gospels.  We’ve all heard the story many times, and for good reason—this lovely encounter between Christ and a sinner cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  In the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus comes to a well at noontime and there he meets a Samaritan woman who is about to fill her water jar.  The conversation they share at the well reveals how mercy and sin meet in the heart of the woman.  She is an outcast, a Samaritan, with whom no “respectable” Jewish man would speak.  Yet she and Jesus speak deeply together about social protocol, religious history, Jewish prophecy and, in a real stunner for the woman, her own broken marriages and sin.  She is transformed by her conversation with Jesus.  In the middle of this ordinary day, her life was totally changed.  She has met the Messiah at the well.  Since we know her shame and her sins, we know that her noonday trip to the well was something she’d planned.  It was no accident for her to be there when she was.  The other women of the town would have visited the well early in the morning.  So she’d avoided the stares and comments of these “respectable” women by timing her trip for the hottest time of the day, when no one else would be there.  Or so she thought.

 

But God had other plans for her life.  In the middle of an ordinary day, in the middle of her sinful life, the Creator of the universe asked her for a drink of water.  As they spoke together, Jesus revealed Who He was and gave her the promise of eternal life.  She was drawn to Him.  Jesus didn’t condemn her, which she was probably expecting.  Neither did He minimize her situation:  “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband (John 4:17-18).”  Jesus named her sin there in the light of the noonday sun.  And her eyes and heart were opened to see Him and hear Him.  He accepted her in her sin without condemnation or judgment.  His truthful words allowed her to imagine a new beginning.  His mercy was a healing balm for her broken and abused heart.  As she felt the impact of His acceptance and love grow within her, she did something remarkable—“…she left her water jar…”(John 4:28).  The very thing that was the reason she’d come to the well in the first place was now unimportant to her.  She left the jar to tell the people of the town about Jesus.  “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done”(Johne 4:29).  Perhaps the burden of that heavy clay water jar was like the other burdens she’d left at the well.  Her sinfulness, her emptiness, her shame and her guilt, these were gone, too.  She’d visited the well for ordinary water and found living water instead.  All her burdens were now laid at the feet of the Lord. 

 

We can see ourselves in her unfolding story.  What burdens, what sins, what shame are each of us being called to lay at Jesus’ feet?  What is it in my life that I keep in my own water jar?  And if we don’t give our sinfulness over to Him, how can we hope to be a witness to others of His life-giving water?  What am I carrying around that gets in the way of my sharing the good news of God’s mercy and love? 

 

“…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst…”(John 4:14)

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