Palm Sunday – Lead Us Not Into Temptation

April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man  if he had not been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:14-25)

Meditation: Why did Judas betray his Master? Was his treachery motivated by greed, bitter disappointment with Jesus or hatred because of disillusionment?  It may be that Judas never intended for his Master to die.  Maybe he thought Jesus was proceeding too slowly and not acting aggressively enough in setting up his messianic kingdom.  Perhaps Judas wanted to force Jesus’ hand by compelling him to act.  Nonetheless, his tragedy was his refusal to accept Jesus as he was.  Aren’t we tempted to use God for our own purposes? It is not God who must change, but we must be changed by him.  Jesus knew beforehand what would befall him.

As Jesus ate the passover meal with his twelve apostles he put them under trial and suspicion (one of you will betray me) to teach them to examine themselves rightly, lest they be high minded and think themselves more strong than they were. We also must examine ourselves in the light of God’s truth and grace and ask him to strengthen us in faith, hope, and love that we may not fail him or forsake him when we are tempted. Do you pray with confidence in the words Jesus gave us to pray? Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil?

Source: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/matt2614.htm

Invest in Yourself

April 4, 2020

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions. I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God. (Ezekiel 37:21-28)

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God told believers He would “deliver them” and “cleanse them” so that they would be His people.

Ezekiel spoke those words over 2600 years ago. Yet today idol worship, abominations, transgressions, and apostasy are alive and well. People hardly seem “cleansed.” Which may lead us to ask the question, “Did God fail?”

Faith-filled people have learned over time that God is not one to simply hand His children things. He is first and foremost a loving teacher. He knows that when we learn and do on our own, we are invested; we have “skin in the game.” St. John Paul II included in his prayers: Teach me, lead me, guide me to Jesus. God could snap His fingers and “deliver” us and “cleanse” us, but chooses to lead us and guide us instead.

There is a scene in the movie Evan Almighty in which God (played by Morgan Freeman) teaches Evan’s wife how to deal with her impatience: “When you pray, don’t pray for patience. Instead, pray for opportunities to be patient.”

Don’t pray to be cleansed, pray for opportunities to cleanse yourself. Don’t pray to be delivered, pray for opportunities to deliver yourself.

God is Tapping Us on the Shoulder

April 3, 2020

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the work… (John 10:31-42)

Allow me to paraphrase what Jesus is saying to his detractors in today’s gospel: “You want to stone me for ‘making myself out to be God.’ If you won’t believe what I say, believe what I do.” Perhaps even simpler, “Just look around and you’ll believe in me.”

When speaking at school retreats, I often tell students, “God is constantly tapping us on the shoulder. He wants our attention!”

We go through much of our life with tunnel vision – our wants, our needs, our goals, our plans. When we see life in this way, we tend to see things that enhance our lives as our personal successes rather than as God working in our lives. We are quick, however, to blame God for things that don’t go our way.

Look around. God paints a breath-taking picture for us — he is in the beauty of nature, in the love expressed for us by others, in the gentle squeezing of a hand by our spouse, in the laughter of children, in the gifts and talents we’ve been given. God is hiding in plain sight.

He is constantly tapping us on the shoulder; we need to give him our attention.

 

 

“The least in the household of God”

April 2, 2020 – Optional Memorial of Saint Francis of Paola

Today the Church celebrates the life of Saint Francis of Paola. Most people are aware of Saint Francis of Assisi, but may not be aware of the other Saint Francis.

As I read more about this unfamiliar saint, his life seemed to offer an interesting perspective on how we might view our current state of required “social distancing.”

Here is a brief snapshot of his view on life:

The life of Francis of Paola speaks plainly to an overactive world. He was a contemplative man called to active ministry and must have felt keenly the tension between prayer and service. Yet, in Francis’s life it was a productive tension, for he clearly utilized the fruits of contemplation in his ministry. He responded so readily and so well to the call of the Church from a solid foundation in prayer and subduing his bodily desires. When he went out to the world, it was not he who worked but Christ working through him—“the least in the household of God.”

I was drawn to this saint’s ability to utilize the fruits of contemplation in his ministry. He used his time of isolation and separation (note that his was a chosen lifestyle rather than a forced “social distancing”) to consider how he could best serve others.

Bottom line for us? We have not chosen to distance ourselves from others. However, it is our current reality. Why not work on ourselves during this time? We can use the time to reflect on our lives in Christ: How much time do we spend in prayer, working on our personal relationship with God? In our daily lives, do we serve others or do we leave the work of caring for our fellow man to some one else? Finally, a difficult question, perhaps best asked while looking in a mirror – are we selfish? If so, what excuses do we use to justify that?

We may have had this time of isolation thrust upon us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put it to good use. Perhaps this time will allow us to put our lives in perspective. Perhaps by the time we are able to return to our “normal lives” we will view ourselves as Saint Francis of Paola did – as “the least in the household of God.”

Learn more about St. Francis of Paola at: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-francis-of-paola/

Social Distancing vs Social Isolation (3)

As I mentioned on Monday, over a 3-day period I have shared portions of an article written by Alex Ross for The Culture Project. Alex is the daughter of a good friend. Among other things, she encourages us to “rest in the presence of the Lord” and to “live in the light.” Today, I offer the final installment. To access her entire article, go to: https://thecultureproject.org/social-distancing-vs-social-isolation-your-field-guide-to-cultivating-communion/

Rest in the presence of the Lord!

What better time than this for retreat? The Lord makes Himself present to us at all times, and we can use our extra time and stillness to more deeply cultivate our relationship with his love, and to pray for all those who need our prayers. Invite Christ into your life in a renewed way. Ask the Lord new questions and listen for his voice. Make a home chapel or designated prayer space in your home. Learn more about your faith. Invite others into devotions such as the Rosary or into studying the Bible (these can be done on video chat)! Many organizations are live streaming devotions like these to cultivate a sense of greater community. Even with public masses being suspended, you can still hold fast to the Eucharist through participating in daily Mass online or by reading daily readings and reflections and making an act of spiritual communion. Starting off each day with prayer in my home community has been such a blessing for me so far. God deeply desires to be present to us during this time. Will we be present to Him?

Live in the LIGHT!

Firstly, turn on the lights! Studies have shown that any negative effects of isolation are much more pronounced if we don’t expose ourselves to daylight.1 Expose yourself to the sun outside! Open up the windows, and turn on the lights when you are not sleeping. This promotes healthy sleep-wake cycles, activity, and routine. 

Secondly, be the light! Turn on the light of your optimism. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Optimism does not mean ignoring hard realities, but being open to the positive possibilities around us. Optimism means remaining hopeful. It fosters creativity in the midst of our trials and always searches for meaning. In fact, those with a spirit of optimism are more likely to experience meaningful personal growth following adversity.2 That’s right, times of difficulty have the potential to leave us better people than before!

Stay rooted in TRUTH.

You may have heard the phrase, “No man is an island.” The phrase comes from the English poet John Donne and refers to our interconnectedness with each other and God. While no man is an island, we can be made to feel like we are. In fact, the word “isolate” stems from the Latin word meaning “island.” With physical separation, we should be aware that isolating lies may try to creep in. These might sound like, “I’m all alone in this” or “Nobody understands me”. Let’s root ourselves in the truth that we are not alone and don’t have to do it alone. Let’s root ourselves in verified news updates, and not fret about rumors. Finally, let’s root ourselves in the Word of God. 

Social Distancing vs Social Isolation (2)

March 30, 2020

As I mentioned yesterday, over a 3-day period I will be sharing portions of an article written by Alex Ross for The Culture Project. Alex is the daughter of a good friend. Among other things, she encourages us to “rest in the presence of the Lord” and to “live in the light.” Today, I offer a second installment. To access her entire article, go to: https://thecultureproject.org/social-distancing-vs-social-isolation-your-field-guide-to-cultivating-communion/

Establish technology boundaries that facilitate AUTHENTIC connection. 

While technology has the incredible capacity to help us connect, it can fuel disconnection if we allow it to remove us from reality or meaningful relationships. Here are just a few suggestions of what healthy technology boundaries can look like:

  1. Prioritize real relationships. Use your screens primarily to connect with people you know in real life, rather than to consume copious amounts of anonymous content. In particular, put away screens when the people you are living with are present! In this way, you can make yourself available to the most authentic connection possible.
  2. Consume mindfully. Recognize that bingeing on media does not empower you to live the abundant life you desire. Entertainment can be great, but moderation is essential for what we consume to remain authentically entertaining! Monitor what apps you are using the most, and notice which ones are not proving to be a fulfilling use of your time. 
  3. Live outside of online. If we were to live our entire lives online during this time, we would deprive ourselves of the chance to more deeply get in touch with ourselves, God, and the people we live with. Designate certain hours of your day or rooms of your house to be screen-free. Don’t fear times of silence. They might just be refreshing.

Stay connected with yourself! 

Use this time to dive into discovering the gift you are! With constant news bombarding us, we can be so caught up in things outside of ourselves that we can forget to check in on our own hearts, minds, and bodies. The Lord has created us with great dignity, therefore, we should tend to our own bodies and souls. Take the time to assess your physical, spiritual, and mental needs. What helps YOU live fully alive? I’ve found that daily movement is essential for me to feel in-tune with my body. Stretching, walking, or dancing help me to physically flourish. I notice that I thrive when I am learning new skills, languages, or art forms (there are so many books and online resources that can help us do this during this time)! I notice that journaling, conversing, and praying particularly feed my heart, and that I flourish the most mentally when I practice mindfulness

Much of our society’s loneliness and lack of peace is a symptom of a culture of constant busyness. With so many activities suspended, let’s take a step back from feeling like we have to rush through life. Let’s slow down to be mindful… consider our feelings, notice the lives of others, and savor our experiences. 

Social Distancing vs Social Isolation (1)

March 30, 2020

Over the next 3 days, I will be sharing portions of an article written by Alex Ross for The Culture Project. Alex is the daughter of a good friend. Among other things, she encourages us to “rest in the presence of the Lord” and to “live in the light.” To access her entire article, go to: https://thecultureproject.org/social-distancing-vs-social-isolation-your-field-guide-to-cultivating-communion/

The human person is not created for isolation. We are made for communion. Physically, psychologically, and spiritually, we flourish as human beings when we have a sense of greater connection to others, and to the world around us! During this time of quarantine, let’s fight to keep social distancing from becoming synonymous with social isolation. I’m not talking about isolation as a medical practice, but isolation as the personal experience of feeling alone and disconnected. How can we fight against isolation? By cultivating practices of communion with God, ourselves, and others, even from within our homes. 

There are not a lot of times in history in which the entire world has unified around something. But, right now, we are all in this together! The whole of humanity is putting aside their differences to take distancing measures that can protect the most vulnerable among us. That is pretty beautiful when you think about it. People all over the world are experiencing similar struggles. You are not alone in feeling alone. My hope is that the following tips can help you make this a time of meaning and communion! 

Love the ones you’re with!

Community is the school of love. If you share a home with family or friends, now is the time to let intentional community blossom! Don’t pass each other by. Share life together and invest in your relationships more than ever before. Prioritize time with one another before hopping on to online communities. Try discussing love languages, personality types, favorite books, or topics that haven’t come up yet. Ask questions, work on communication, and seek to understand the hearts of your loved ones in a new way. Intentionally share life together. This can be in small ways, such as preparing meals together, or in more creative ways, such as having artistic adventures or themed activity nights! Let your brains go wild! We learn more about others through sharing new experiences with them. Finally, find small and big ways that you can love and serve during this time, and practice those. Being close to the same people for an extended period gives us the chance to learn how to love them unlike ever before!