We don’t much like tax collectors today. But in first century Israel, they were held in even lower regard. Many of them were corrupt – lining their own pockets in a way that would make Illinois politicians look like saints. And worse – they were collecting taxes for Rome. The enemy – who not only occupied their land but defiled it by their presence, their idols and their false gods. Tax collectors were the sorts of people drug dealers wouldn’t let their kids hang out with. Read More
On the Inside; On the Outside
During deacon formation, I was required to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for one of my classes. While reading this document, I came across a beautiful prayer from St. Nicholas of Flue. It is a prayer that has become one of my favorites and it is one that I often use when I give talks at other parishes. This is the prayer:
My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you.
My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you.
My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you.
This prayer continues to touch me every time I read it. It is very simple, yet hits me where I need it the most. It’s about transforming my thinking from being about “me” to being about the One who made me. It’s about placing our focus on serving the Lord without getting caught up in the distractions of our world.
This is an extremely powerful prayer and yet it’s a very difficult prayer. Why? Because we tend to make things about ourselves – and we often get wrapped up with our own drama. When we place all of our thoughts, actions and energies toward ourselves – everything about me and what I want, there is simply no room for God. We in fact become our own God.
But when we take the time to center ourselves and refocus on our one true God, our perspective slowly begins to change. We become less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
When we allow God to “re-become” the center of our lives, everything simply falls into place. It’s just like St. Teresa of Jesus wrote:
Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you.
Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all.
Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough.
Just the other day I was flipping through TV channels and came across a show about a guy who picks up road kill for a living. I thought, “Why in the world would anyone want to watch this?” And then, of course, I couldn’t turn it off! That show was called “Dirty Jobs,” and Mike Rowe was the man who became famous for trying some of the dirtiest jobs on the planet. He has waded through sewers, castrated horses, farmed worm poop, and sorted through medical waste, just to name a few. He goes out and learns about the jobs that none of us would ever want to do, and gets coached by the people who do these jobs every day for a living. It’s not just for entertainment, because Mike goes deeper in order to pay respect to the men and women who roll up their sleeves and do these challenging jobs every day. Read More
Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. When a persecution broke out in the year 258, Pope St. Sixtus was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?” The Pope answered, “I am not leaving you, my son. In three days you will follow me.” Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand and even sold expensive vessels to have more to give away.
The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church’s treasure to him. Lawrence said he would – in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor, the sick, the blind, lepers, widows and orphans. When he showed them to the Prefect and said: “This is the Church’s treasure!”
In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. Lawrence was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but he was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” And just before he died, he said, “It’s cooked enough now.” Then he prayed that Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic faith might spread all over the world.
Today, St. Paul tells us that whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (Corinthians 9:6-10) . St. Lawrence understood this and it led him to realize these two simple truths: that God is able to make every grace abundant for each one of us, and that God loves a cheerful giver.
May each of us burn with the fire of Christ’s love so that we can readily serve our Father and others with honor, joy, and holy humor.
For some reason, I woke up this morning not praising God, but judging others. You may think that this is difficult because I haven’t even “seen” anyone yet. But for some reason, I was judging these people in my mind. I’m not really sure where this comes from, but this happens far more than I care to admit.
I often get this thought in my head that people don’t fit into the mold that I am trying to put them into. As I sit here writing this, I realize how terrible this action is. I am trying to make these people something they’re not. I am forcing my rules of living onto others, and they don’t even know that I am doing it. I am judging people according to my thoughts and beliefs. I am finally starting to realize when I am doing this, and I try to realign my thoughts as soon as possible. I was not placed on this earth to judge. That is not my job. God will judge – not me! My role is to love and serve the Lord and others each and everyday. I shall not judge because I have many obstacles of my own to overcome. I need to constantly pray for the strength to overcome my weaknesses and become more loving and caring.
It all comes down to realizing that I am not the one who is in charge. It is not about me and it’s certainly not how others should conform to my thoughts, actions and preconceived notions. I will continue to pray for the knowledge and understanding to accept this reality of God being the one who has control of every situation. By placing my life in God’s hands, I will be totally free of thoughts of judgement toward others. I will be able to love others for who they really are, and not what I expect them to be. I will be fully accepting of their gifts and talents and strive to live better because of them.
Help me, Lord, not to judge others – but to serve you with my whole heart. Amen.
Today we remember Saints Peter and Paul: two men called by God to do great things. Two men who certainly were not born equipped to serve the Lord, but rather, two men who were equipped by the Lord to preach the Gospel and ultimately to give up their lives for its sake.
Peter was a young fisherman living on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was a man prone to outbursts and weak under pressure. He was unstable, impulsive, insecure, and cowardly. He often spoke or acted inappropriately, and was anything but a rock.
Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who persecuted Christians, even ordering the stoning of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen. He was a bigot, self-righteous, manipulative, vindictive, cunning and opportunistic.
Peter and Paul were two unlikely characters for the Lord to call into his service and to establish as apostles of the Church. Yet the Lord chose them, transformed them, and entrusted to them to spread the Gospel.
God called Peter and Paul to use their personalities for the good: Peter to use his passionate love to look after the flock, and Paul to use his training as a Pharisee and his strength of character to ensure that the non-Jews would be welcomed into the church. It is a reminder to us that our strengths and our weaknesses can become God’s means of helping others, if we let it. We don’t have to be perfect for God to work through us. God can work through us, faults and all, just as he did with Peter and Paul.
Spiritual conversion requires the greatest miracle of all, but God’s Word is reassuring. If people like Peter and Paul could become deeply converted and change the world, then we know there is hope for the rest of us.
More than 19 million Americans have this, and it causes difficulty in some area of their lives. What is it? It’s a phobia. A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear reaction. If you have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when you encounter the source of your fear, whether it is of a certain place, situation, or object. Unlike general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually connected to something specific. Here are a few of the most common phobias:
- Altophobia: Fear of heights.
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders.
- Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces.
- Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.
- Theophobia: fear of God.
- Ecclesiophobia: Fear of church.
- Homilophobia: Fear of homilies. (Maybe even Deacon Allen’s homilies!)
- Testophobia: Fear of taking tests.
- Phalacrophobia: Fear of becoming bald.
- Chaetophobia: Fear of hair (other people’s hair).
- Xenophobia: Fear of the unknown.
- Ephebiphobia: Fear of youth (teenagers).
Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things will be yours.
Notice, “Fear less” is at the top of that list of what needs to be done if all good things are to be ours. Moreover, “Fear less” was high on Jesus’ list of things you need to do in order to experience wholeness of life.
Jesus wants you to know beyond all doubt that you and I are important to God; that God wants to be in a relationship with us. You may turn on the busy signal if you wish, but God never will do that. We can always count on God’s constant care for us.
Each one of us is called to go out and serve those in need, the most vulnerable in our society – and that can be scary. We are often afraid to speak the truth, to stand up for what is right, or afraid of those who might try to hurt us. We might be afraid to try new things, or meet new people who are different than us. But Jesus promises us that God is in control: “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” Jesus reassures us of the value that God places on us. You and I are worth more than many sparrows; and we are also precious in God’s sight. With God by our side, we have nothing to fear.
I was sorting through a bunch of papers recently when I came upon a quote from a silent retreat that I had taken a number of years ago. Here is that quote:
What do you do when everything is going wrong and there’s nothing else you can do?
You hang on – just like Jesus did.
Jesus did everything that He could do in order to show people how they should live, how they should serve those in need, and how they should love everyone. Now, Jesus finds Himself heading towards His death – and there’s nothing more He can do about it, except hang on.
This is a beautiful, symbolic gesture of how we should accept the challenges that we face everyday. When we realize that things are out of our control and not going the way we had hoped, we just need to hang on. Things will eventually get better. (They always do!) After all, Jesus hung on in order to save us. And everything got better after that!
Jesus, give us the strength to hang on even when it seems impossible to do so. Let us feel your constant presence so that we may know that you are right here beside us, especially during our struggles. Free us from our burdens and lead us to the power of your saving love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Johnny. Johnny was always coming home late from playing outside.
One day his mom and dad had enough of it. They said, “Listen, Johnny! You never come home in time for supper. Your supper is always getting cold. We always have to warm it up for you, and this has got to stop. The next time you come home late, we’ll give you bread and water. That’s all. No butter, no peanut butter, no jelly; just plain bread and water.”
Well, the very next day Johnny came home late for supper again. He walked into the house and sat down at the supper table. His mom and dad, who had plates with meat and potatoes and vegetables in front of them, didn’t say a thing. They quietly gave Johnny a plate with some bread and a glass of water.
Johnny was crushed. He never thought his mom and dad would do such a thing. How could they? But he was wrong.
Johnny’s father waited for the lesson to sink in. Then, silently, he took his own plate full of meat and potatoes and vegetables, and put it in front of Johnny. Then he took Johnny’s plate and put it in front of himself.
Johnny is now a man. And not long ago someone asked him, “Do you know what God is like?” Johnny said, “I’ve known it all my life. I’ve known it ever since that night when my father switched plates.”
Each of us is called to love and serve God with all of our being and direct our whole lives to God, which includes our actions and choices. As a result, we should view the rest of Jesus’ teachings as helping us to love and come closer to God. We are to show God’s unceasing love for all people, which then enables us to see more fully God’s presence in the world.
If we can love God with our whole being – heart, soul, mind, and strength – everything else in our lives will flow forth from there.