As you guys may know, I’m a huge basketball fan (this is Joe, not Stacy, by the way… not sure if Stacy is a huge basketball fan or not!). This is a while ago now, but back in the early 2000’s the Lakers with star players Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant leading the way and Phil Jackson coaching were dominating the NBA. Their team had a lot of talent and won three NBA championships in a row from 2000-2002. After losing in the NBA finals in 2004, Shaq changed teams and Phil Jackson quit coaching the Lakers for the time being. What could have been an even greater NBA dynasty was cut short due to dysfunction within the organization. Phil Jackson ended up writing a book about this team and what it was like coaching them. Jackson said, “Ask Shaq to do something, and he'll say, 'No, I don't want to.' But after a little pouting, he'll do it. Ask Kobe and he'll say, 'O.K.' and then he will do whatever he wants.” From this one quote, you can see how dysfunctional this team became when their star players behaved this way.
This story about Shaq and Kobe reminds me of the parable in the Gospel reading from Matthew this Sunday. Jesus tells a parable where a man has two sons and asks them both to work in his vineyard. The first son says that he will work for his father but then changes his mind and doesn’t go to the vineyard to work. The second son says that he won’t work in the vineyard but then he also changes his mind and goes to work. Jesus asked those who were listening which son did his father’s will. It is obvious that it was the son who actually went to work in the vineyard who did his father’s will. Like in the story of Shaq and Kobe, it was Shaq who did his coach’s will even though it was Kobe who initially said that he would do what his coach said.
I think there are ways in which I, and likely many of you, can associate with both Shaq and Kobe or with both sons in the parable. The sons in the parable are us and the father is God. Being a Catholic Christian means that we are telling God our Father that we will work in his vineyard and we will do His will. By being Catholic and having been baptized and confirmed or looking forward to being confirmed soon, we are all telling God, “Yes, I will work in your vineyard.” This means that we are telling God that we will live and work for Him and follow His will in our lives no matter what. It is pretty easy to go through the motions and simply say like the first son, “Yes God, I will work in your vineyard”, but it is much more difficult to live that out. It is tough work working in a vineyard! We get out in school and the workplace and it is easy to forget our promise to God. It’s easy to say I don’t want to follow God’s will today, I’d rather please myself and commit some fun sins and stay away from the work in the vineyard. Working in God’s vineyard takes on many different forms for different people. Some people are called to be priests or nuns, some are called into full or part time ministry, some are called to be married and have children. No matter what our individual calling is, we are all expected to be a good witness to the faith we’ve been given and to live that faith out to those we come in contact with in our everyday life.
I can think of many times in my personal life where I have been the first son. I’ve told God that I’m going to do His will and live for Him but then completely turned my back on what I knew was right. I rejected God and stayed away from the vineyard I agreed to work in by deliberately sinning against Him.
As the parable shifts to the second son, I like to picture him saying no to his father because he had in his mind more important things to do. These things may have been sinful activities he wanted to participate in or they could have been things that weren’t inherently bad (like for us school, work, friends, sports, video games, TV, etc.) but he had let them become a priority in front of God in his life. I can relate to this son as well because how often do I say no to God because I’ve put other things in front of Him. The great thing about this part of the parable is that it’s not too late to change our mind. It’s not too late to say, “Father, what was I thinking? I’m going to come work in your vineyard!”.
Whether you associate with the first or second son, we have the awesome Sacrament of Reconciliation (available Saturdays from 3:45-4:30pm and by appointment) for when we’ve failed where we can come back to God and commit to Him. We move on from our sin and become the second son when he decided it was time to amend his life and go to work. The second son realized that he screwed up and did what he needed to do to fix the situation!
The second reading for this Sunday is from Philippians 2:1-11, and it shows us how to live for God or how to be the second son when he decided it was time to work. It tells us to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. He humbled himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. I would encourage you all to pick up a Bible or a missalette from one of the pews and spend some time reading and contemplating this passage of Scripture before going to mass on Sunday. It is a very powerful passage that teaches us to live our lives in humility for the glory of God.
I don’t know about you all, but in high school, I was kind of a judgmental person. Many of us have regrets from high school and although I do have some regrets in the boyfriend department (*throatclear*), most of my regret falls with the way I silently treated others. I was never outward or hostile towards sinners, but I often judged myself as ‘better than’ other people in high school based on the sins they were rumored to have committed (ie. sex, drugs, alcohol.) I thought because I was not doing any of the “big three” mentioned that I was better, somehow closer to God. This could not be further than the truth. You see we all suffer, we all sin, and we are all in need of God’s mercy and love and forgiveness. Oftentimes, especially in high school, teens are merely searching for love, for truth, for contentment, and perhaps even an escape.
What I wish I realized then that I know now is my life has been pretty easy, very loving and encouraging, and super peaceful for the most part. All of us have had our rough patches, but generally speaking, my family has always been amazing. I have always loved my parents and my 8 siblings and they have ALWAYS been very supportive, encouraging and affirming. So because of this background, my heart never really searched for healing or an escape, or even just a sliver of love/affection to revive the apathetic heart too many wounds may have caused. I wish the same could be said for many of my friends. Everyone comes from a different background. Some of my friends came from broken homes, crappy relationships, mental illness, all kinds of abuse, or a general lack of affection. It makes their search for love in all the wrong places a little more understandable don’t you think?
So back to my former teenage judgmental/bitchy self… I thought I could pass judgment on others based on their apparent sins. And I wasn’t alone. I think oftentimes we Christians are more concerned with what others are doing than our own personal relationships with Christ. The readings for this Sunday seem to point in that direction as well. Don’t get me wrong, being apart of a community and correcting them in charity is essential to a well-rounded Christian life, but when it comes to what is right or what ought to be, let’s worry about ourselves first, ok? If I could have just looked within my heart first, I would have seen my own sin.
In the first readings, Isaiah wisely states that it is not up to us to determine the punishments or rewards of others. We cannot presume to know God’s ways, God’s thoughts, nor the thoughts and motivations of our brothers and sisters. So what we SHOULD focus on is to draw close to him. Let’s focus on our relationship with Him and how he will be here for us, no matter what! Let us draw ourselves closer to him as he is unchanging. This Sunday’s Psalms remind us that The Lord is near to all who call upon Him!
The Gospel story of the workers in the vineyard pretty well illustrate my high school self. I was that person who joined the workers early. I was eager to get to work, to live according to God’s will and do what’s right! But then at the end of the day, point fingers and complain to God that “these people go the same wage as I did and they’ve don’t half the work!” God reminds all the Stacys in the world:
“My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?'
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Take what is yours and go. Accept the love and mercy God has shown you, the grace he has given you for the beautiful life and effort you have put in… and go. Jesus encourages us later in the Parable of the Talents that if he gives you much, spread it, make it even more! So if you have been fortunate enough to have a healthy upbringing or have even overcome a bad upbringing and are living a virtuous life! Thank God! What a gift!! Don’t bury that gift by spending your time trying to figure out what is just… that’s God’s job. Just concern yourself with growing towards Him… then the Christ inside you will bring others to Him. THAT is what I wish high school Stacy knew…
Don’t be a high school Stacy. Show mercy, let God shine through you and love on people. He will know what to do with them!
All you beautiful college freshmen were my first class to go through Confirmation Prep and Youth group with me! So you're kind of like my own children. So because I feel all "mama bear" towards you, I'd like to offer my loving suggestions to help make your years at college ones of growth, love, and PEACE!
Keep going to Mass-it's your connection home. So I went to a college about 3 hours away from home. I loved it because it was far enough away to feel 'on my own' but close enough that I could easily come home for a weekend. But the first month I was so homesick. I battled SO MUCH anxiety separating from my family and friends. It was hard to sleep and eat... needless to say, I really struggled. So I remember talking to my dad, who told me that I would not always feel this way but that until I got used to being on my own, I should receive the Eucharist because when I do, I become "One Body" with all my family and friends. He said when we both receive the Eucharist, we are closer than if he and I were in the same room. You guys, it's true. If you miss someone, miss your church youth group, miss your family, etc, then go to Mass and unite with them there. It helps so much!
Prepare for Mass: I can't underestimate the power of preparing for Mass ahead of time by reading the readings! I will write a blog each week which will link to the Sunday readings and share a couple of thoughts about how the readings may apply to your lives right now! When we prepare, we are putting effort into our Mass experience which makes it so much richer. God's grace is so much more felt and received. So click on this link and keep it on your homescreen: http://stjosephignite.weebly.com/blog. I promise you, the more you put into Mass the more you will get out!
Pray Daily: I know you are busy. You stay up late and sleep in. Some of you work, and most of you have homework and study. Also, I understand that it's college, and many of you stay out late socializing.... BUT here are a few SHORT and POWERFUL prayers you could do daily. Just set the alarm in your phone for noon each day and lable it with prayer!
Find some faith-filled friends: Most of you have at least one friend you can talk about your faith with. But if you don't, head to the Newman Center or Catholic Youth Group on campus, each school has one, and sign up for one activity. Be brave and share your struggles, your hopes, what you want to be and your friends there will support you and most likely be in the same boat you are in!
Don't forget about confession- I get it. You are in college. You are finally free to do whatever you want! So many of you may be looking for fulfillment in attractive places... but don't be surprised if the excitement melts away into anxiety, lonliness and sadness. I pray you remember the healing power of Confession. It helps, not hurts and gives you strength to be the person God is calling you to be. If you are looking for peace, patience, confidence and freedom, those temptations you face will only distract you then leave you feeling empty. The Sacraments like Mass and Confession will fill you and give you what you are truly looking for! Plus I'll buy you ice cream if you go to confession ;)
Come back and see us! I truly adore you all. I pray for you often and wish you the best. But I want to see you too so keep visiting me! You can write me via facebook, instagram, email or even stop into YG any Wed night! We will be going to adoration every last Thursday of the month from 6-7pm! Here is our Youth Group Calendar! I'd love to see you!
We will be praying for you all!
All my love in Christ,
As I reflect on the readings for Sunday, I am struck by the first sentence of Sirach:
“Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? I mean wrath and anger are like poison. There are a ton of references in the bible about how HARMFUL anger is for you. But just like junk food, we know that it is bad for us, yet we crave it anyways. I guess it all goes back to our fallen nature passed down from the first sin of Adam and Eve. Their mistake, their sin of pride, their decision to GO AGAINST GOD and trust in themselves for what is best is what cost them salvation, and the salvation of the human race…
Sirach (Or Ben Sira, depending on the translation) continues saying we all struggle with sin, therefore we are in constant need of forgiveness and mercy. Our sinfulness causes us to be self-centered so we don’t treat others like we should. Take me and my kids for example. I yell at them when they shouldn’t do what they are doing. Sometimes I yell at them instead of talk gently or lovingly to them because yelling at them makes me feel better. Or at least it feels better for a second… until the mom guilt sets in that I just yelled like a crazy woman at them. Is it the best way to talk to them? No. It’s really not. But does that stop me?
Here’s the thing that Sirach points out to us though… if we don’t show mercy to others and forgive them (my kids acting up for the billionth time, or that friend who lied to you), how do we expect God to show us mercy? If we hang on to anger about something or someone, how do we expect God (or even others) to let go of the anger they may have for us?
The Psalms for Sunday chime in to remind us that the Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness. Whew! God is good, so he’ll forgive me, right? Absolutely. Jesus died so this could happen. We have been redeemed. But that is not all we get out of the readings… The gospel then brings it on home…
Peter asks Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Oh, Peter. He’s one of my favorites because he asks what we are all thinking. I mean, WE HUG OUR SINFULLNESS TIGHT and we all know Peter struggled with anger. I mean, he did cut a dudes ear off without a second thought. #ragey
But Peter says what all of us are thinking! “Jesus, you have to understand that I am only human! I can’t put up with peoples’ BS over and over again right? I mean I have the right to NOT forgive them if they are being total idiots, RIGHT? I have the right to be angry at them if they did ________.”
How many times have we said that to ourselves?
Jesus knows us and knows that it’s hard for us to take criticism, so he responds to Peters whining, I mean question, with a parable ( a story that teaches us something). The parable of the Wicked Servant teaches us in order to receive mercy, we must show it. So even though it feels SO GOOD to be angry at people sometimes, it separates us from the love and mercy God has for us.
Not sure about you all, but I could use all the love and mercy I can get.
With all my heart (even the sometimes angry part),
No this is not a title of a forgotten Harry Potter novel. This is an epidemic that is plaguing our generation: The Hardened Heart.
What exactly is a hardened heart? This upcoming Sunday’s readings talk about it a little bit. A hard heart can mean many things, but I would say the thing that jumps out to me is a lack of humility.. So for example, if someone who loves you says,“Hey Sally, that shirt is a little low cut, I can see a lot of your tay-tahs. You may want to change because only bad things can come from that (ie attracting a jerk guy who only wants to use you/leading the good men trying to be holy into temptation to lust, etc).”
Now you could scoff and say, “Whatever Prude,” and walk away, missing out on an opportunity to listen to her and grow in self-discipline, humility and virtue. OR you could thank her, take her advice to heart and change your shirt. Why? To protect yourself from sin and the crappy things in life (like lust and objectifying and using people) SO THAT YOU can learn to love better, to be TRULY SATISFIED by virtue, goodness, grace and peace.
Before you think that my heart is super soft and plushy, let me tell you: I have a hardened heart. But I am aware of it, and when someone suggests a way I could grow or points out a flaw of mine, I CHOOSE to grit my teeth and listen with a smile BECAUSE THEY ARE TRULY TRYING TO LOVE ME. They want me to have the best in life! I see this a lot in my marriage to Matt. He and I call one another to grow every day BECAUSE I WANT HEAVEN for him! And I want him to be happy!! In fact, if he thought I was perfect and didn’t demand the best of me, I would be SO BORED! I need the challenge, ya’ll!
Actually recently, God has started softening my hardened heart. I have always been a pretty confident person. I am truly happy with a lot of myself. But I always tended to ignore the not so great stuff about myself and when others would point it out (Thanks, brave friends!), I’d scoff, roll my eyes then tell them why they were WRONG. Ya, real piece of work I am lol!
Well, God knows me. More than I know myself. And he knows how to soften my heart, gently, tenderly, lovingly. Over the last 6 months or so, with the help of reading 33 Days to Merciful Love and St. Therese, I realized that God can shine BRIGHTER when I struggle. When I am weak, He is strong! When I am not good at something, I MUST admit it then let God do it within me. He is the answer. His love inspires and empowers and motivates me to be the person He created me to be! You guys, I want to be a Saint but I CANT DO IT. Only God can make me a saint! I want to bring people to God because I know he has saved me, he can save you too. He can give you love, peace, and fulfillment you are looking for! But The Curse of the Hardened Heart actually PREVENTS us from receiving God’s love and peace. It’s a ROCK HARD WALL that stands in the way of his tenderness.
So this week, instead of telling others how they should be better, let’s take a look at our hearts. And let’s listen to others on how we can grow. It may suck, but it does wonders for softening hearts. I'll buy you ice cream if you try. Love ya ~Stacy
Word up. I am Stacy, the youth minister of this amazing group of teens. I have 4 kids of my own, 2 heaven babies and like 60 teens I consider very large children of my own.