On the Inside; On the Outside


Perfectly Imperfect

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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.

Off the Rails

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In 1980, Ozzy Osbourne released a song called “Crazy Train.” In this song, Ozzy asks when we can all learn to love in a world gone mad:

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes.
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love, and forget how to hate.

Mental wounds not healing,
Life’s a bitter shame;
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.

What the apostles were doing in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-33) must have seemed a little crazy to much of the surrounding world. The Pharisees and leaders certainly seem to think this. Drawing attention to the public proclamation of Jesus as Lord was indeed crazy.

The apostles preach the gospel, encounter imprisonment, are miraculously released, and immediately get back to preaching the gospel – in the exact same place their message seemed to fail the first time! Crazy, right?

How often are we eager to shake the dust off our feet when opposition to our faithfulness arises? There is a time for counting our losses and moving on, but our scripture encourages us to return to those hard places, to keep at the work of faithfulness, and to proclaim the good news again regardless of the results we see. Twice the apostles preached in the temple. Twice they were arrested. Once they were flogged. And yet, Acts 5 concludes with the apostles rejoicing in their sufferings and preaching in the temple every single day.

Too often, discouragement and indifference creep in, and we cease to proclaim and live the gospel. When we find the strength to obey God’s commands and respond to the promptings of the Spirit, God becomes more present in our lives.

Let us get off of our crazy train and persevere in our faith. If we strive to become witnesses and partakers in God’s joy, we will never go off the rails.

Identifying the Christ

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Peter experiences a moment of clarity in today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-33). Briefly the clouds part and he speaks from the heart: “You are the Christ.” It is the discovery of one who has followed, asked, watched, and questioned. But as our story unfolds we realize Peter knows almost nothing about the implications of his declaration. He speaks a seed of truth without knowing how, when, or where it will grow.

Jesus’ identity was widely debated. The disciples give a number of answers reflecting the speculations of the people: John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet of old. All they really know is this one is very different.

But no one has a clue just how different Jesus really is.

For the disciples the declaration implies political freedom, armies, war, riches, and power. God’s Messiah will set Israel free from the clenched fist of Rome. They are imagining a king, a court, and multiple thrones.

So Jesus begins the monumental task of redefining their expectations. He speaks plainly of suffering, rejection, death, resurrection. Peter offers his quiet word of correction. After all, no one will follow into battle if Jesus talks like this. They expect blood to be shed – but not the blood of Jesus.

Jesus’ words are clear but, with the exception of Peter’s rebuke, each time the disciples have nothing to say. Mark offers the only word of explanation later in the Gospel: “Though they failed to understand his words, they were afraid to question him.” (Mark 9:32).

After all, it is so unexpected. So Jesus must slowly open a space in which to reveal God’s suffering, death and resurrection which will lead the disciples to understand how they will be freed by the ultimate sacrifice of God’s love.

Let us pray that we may have that same revelation.

The Cost of Discipleship

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So who wants to be a disciple of Jesus? He certainly doesn’t pull any punches about what it takes (Luke 14:25-33). First, hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself. Second, carry your own cross and follow him. And third, give up all your possessions.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult. Jesus’ words don’t just sound black and white. They are black and white. It is all or nothing. We’re either in or we’re out. Those three things, the cost of discipleship, shaped Jesus’ life and ministry and they are to shape ours as well. Let me break these down one by one. Read More

Living the Way God Intended

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Whenever I ask a group of teenagers to share their favorite story about Jesus, today’s Gospel is the one that always comes up (Luke 9:11b-17). “So much food!” they say. I think one of the reasons this is also such a memorable miracle story is the “go big” nature of it. Jesus doesn’t just give the hungry crowds a little to tide them over, but fills them with so much food that there are leftovers. Read More

St. Patrick – The Real Story

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Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated the Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the pagan Irish. It’s a great story, but none of it is true. The shamrock legend came along centuries after Patrick’s death, as did the miraculous battles against the Druids. Forget about the snakes — Ireland never had any to begin with. No snakes, no shamrocks, and he wasn’t even Irish! Read More

Here I Am, Lord

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Last weekend, my wife Stephanie and I along with our pastor took a group of 11 teens to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Today, I wanted to share with you our experience of this powerful three day pilgrimage. Read More

Moving On with the Mission

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Today would have been my father’s 87th birthday. But as many of you know, he left this world last November. Tomorrow, it will be the six month anniversary of his death. I’ll be honest with you, I miss him dearly. I miss the talks we had, both in person and on the phone. I miss his advice. And I miss his warm embrace when we hugged. And I’ll never forget the last words he said to me the night before he died. When we were done talking on the phone, he said, “So long.” It was his way of saying goodbye. How ironic that these were his final words to me. Read More

Where Were You?

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good fridayThe following song was written years ago when I was reflecting on what Jesus had gone through in order to save us. Despite the fact that we were not actually present when all this occurred, we continue to persecute and kill by our words and actions. I pray that these words allow us to become one with the suffering Christ and to make the changes needed in our lives to live according to his word. Let us carry our cross in order to bring resurrection into the lives of others. Read More

Love, Serve, Transform

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What would you like to own more than anything else in the entire world? Would it be a sports car, a yacht, a beautiful mansion? What are these things worth to you? Jesus is telling us that following him and seeking the kingdom is worth even more than the thing we want most. As we learn more about the kingdom, the desire to attain it grows in us. We want to be in a place of perfect love and perfect peace, where there is no war or disease, no hatred or violence, no discrimination because of the color of our skin or the origin of our family, where people are respected and treated with dignity, and where all of us can live as sisters and brothers in Christ. What we need is what Solomon asked for: an understanding heart, so that we don’t judge others, but we love and serve one another and do what is right. And that’s not always an easy thing to do! Read More

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