This Palm Sunday, those powerful readings, range from super happy to super tragic! The First Reading starts with praising Jesus with palms as he enters Jerusalam, even calling out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It’s hard to believe how quickly something can go from amazing to terrible so quickly...
The hardest times in my life were similar to our readings today in that they started out so well! Matt and I discovered a couple of years ago that we were going to have another baby! Our fifth! Gosh, how we hoped it would be a girl, a sister for our only girl, Grace. All of you with sisters our there, you are blessed beyond measure. My four sisters are a huge gift to me.
Because this pregnancy was a surprise, we had a hard time wrapping our heads and hearts around another baby so soon after Grace was born, but God stretched our hearts like he does and we became very hopeful and excited about the baby! We started telling our friends and I even told the youth group here. We already knew what we would name the baby if it were indeed a girl. We would name her Hope.
It seemed that as quickly as this beautiful gift of life came into our lives and stretched our hearts, she was gone. Losing a child, no matter what age, is something I’d never wish on my worse enemy. We went to my first doctors appointment at 11 weeks gestation and could not find Hope’s heartbeat. Upon an ultrasound, it was confirmed that we lost a child for the second time. We lost a baby whom we named Matty just two years prior).
We lost Hope during the first week of Advent that year, the week of Hope. We know that God planned this-that Hope will always live on! I think telling people was the hardest part. And after telling my teens in the youth group, they all crowded around me and Deacon bill led us in a praying for our healing. It was so beautiful.
Everyone has probably experienced suffering and loss. And maybe even you have suffered this loss shortly after experiencing such a blessing or gift! If you have, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart.
But in the name of my child in heaven, Hope is not lost. Hope lives on! This is what we are preparing for! You see this Sunday we will remember Christ’s Passion, suffering and death. But next Sunday, we see that that’s not the ending God has in mind for us!
Death does not win! Suffering does not win! Good wins, joy wins! LIFE WINS! Look around you. WE are a resurrection people! Christ’s death and resurrections means that we are assured of hope for something better! We are assured eternal joy in heaven! The battle has been fought and WON for us!
My challenge for you this week is to prepare. Lift your sufferings (past present and future) to our Lord this week and prepare Him to resurrect them on Easter Sunday. And if you need a little help doing this, I have an in with two saints in heaven who I assume are in our Lady’s arms right now, Baby Matty and Baby Hope.
Have a blessed Holy Week my friends!
Do you like fire? Not like burning buildings down or anything, but enjoy looking at a flame on a candle perhaps? I believe there is something universal about humans and our attraction to fire. The warmth, the light, the comfort it provides.
Matt (my husband) and I love watching those survivor shows like Survivor Man or Man vs. Wild. It’s amazing how they say that fire is so necessary not only for warmth or to cook any animal they hunted/trapped/found, but also because psychologically, it helps men to feel comfort and hope and empowers them to carry on.
The readings this Sunday have a central theme… God loves us… but in order to truly love Him back, we must remain free… free to choose and free to act. Because of this freedom, and the temptations we face, humanity often chooses wrong… This was the case for the Israelites for a lonnnnngggg time. But that’s not how the story ends.
You see, the first reading and Psalm tells us about the Hebrew people and how God used to send them angels and prophets and messengers of God warning people to turn away from Sin and to love the Lord! But alas, they not only did not listen to these prophets, but they also tormented the prophets! That’s almost like spitting directly into God’s face. Not. Good.
So, the Babylonian Exile happens-the Jewish people are cast out of their Promised Land, their temple destroyed, and those who survived this hostile takeover were made as slaves. I can almost hear God say to them, “You see?! I warned you!!!” But instead of an, “I told you so” God has a different message.
God gave us Jesus as a response to our bad choices: THE ultimate act of Mercy. One of the most well known verses in scripture is a part of our Gospel reading, John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.”
God never gives up on us. In fact, he loves us SO MUCH, that he gave his only Son SO THAT we could be with Him forever in heaven. We could not and do not earn that privilege. It is a gift to us. The most beautiful and humbling gift we could ever receive.
Jesus is more than some holy guy who taught us something. He did more than a few miracles back in the day. Jesus is real. He is alive today. He is the answer we are all looking for. His passion, death and resurrection make our entrance into heaven a possibility. This is what lent prepares us for-to celebrate this enormous gift.
Jesus is our light. He is the fire that warms us, sustains us, comforts us, gives us hope, instills in us the desire to do good and to spread those same attributes to the world around us.
When we know Jesus and choose to love like him, we shed light into the darkness that is the world around us. I am tired of the dark, you guys.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” ~St. Catherine of Siena
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is the familiar passage from Exodus containing the 10 Commandments. I think often times we look at these commandments negatively as God telling his people, “Do this, don’t do that.” While God simply telling us either to do or not to do something is certainly a good enough reason that we should obey Him, His commandments go much deeper than just a list of rules.
One thing that has been on my mind this Lent is freedom. I want to be free from seeking fulfillment in worldly things, so that I can have a deeper relationship with God. Part of Lent is disciplining our bodies by not eating meat on Fridays and any number of other personal disciplines anyone has taken on. By denying our bodies good things like meat that it desires, it helps prepare ourselves to deny sinful desires when we are tempted.
The 10 Commandments point us to the freedom we are meant to have. While God does tell us things not to do, it is so we can be free. When God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, he had already freed them from actual slavery in Egypt. The Israelites knew exactly what it was like to be a slave. God freed them from the Egyptians but also wanted them to be free from sin so they could properly love and worship him. The 10 Commandments gave them the basic starting point to be free. If the Israelites disobeyed the commandments and worshipped other gods or coveted their neighbor’s goods they would no longer be free. They would be slaves to sin and to the things of this world.
By giving up unnecessary things of the world during Lent, it helps us to focus on the necessary things like our relationship with God. In my own life, I gave up several things starting January 1st and will continue these disciplines through Lent. While the things I’ve given up are good things like certain foods or other things that can be used for good, it is important to keep worldly things in the proper place and perspective in our lives. I have already realized in the last couple months how much fulfillment I sought in things of this world. By seeking freedom and not fulfillment from sin and other worldly things, our hope and prayer is to grow closer to God throughout Lent and the rest of our lives.
Oh… lent. Are you feeling like you’re in the desert yet? Last Week’s blog was about finding your desert, your lonely place. Your stuck place. Your, perhaps shameful place. and inviting Jesus into it. Sometimes Jesus does not take our deserts away… he just sits with us in it, helps defeat your temptations in it…
But this Sunday’s readings are not necessarily about sharing our dry and weariness with Him, it’s about GIVING him all that we love.
You see in the First Reading, it’s the story from Genesis about Abraham sacrificing his only (and very long awaited) son Isaac. Abraham is called the Father of Faith for a couple of reasons, but this one is pretty memorable. I mean imagine… Abraham was promised a son from God for YEARS. I mean like 50 years or something. Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were OLD! BUT God fulfilled his promise to Abraham… that he would indeed have a son who would be the father of many decedents.
Then God asks Abraham to give Isaac back via human sacrifice. I’d be all, “Ummmm, that was not a part of the plan, God?! I thought I got to keep my son?!?”
But Abraham was all, “Here I am” and obeyed, faithful that God’s promises are indeed rich, and abundant, and better than we could imagine. After following along with God’s plan and moments from sacrificing his beloved son, an angel stops Abraham and calls for him to release his son.
After witnessing the faith of Abraham, God says,
“in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly.”
So this week in lent, I ask you… What are you holding onto tightly? What do you love most in this world? Is it your family? Your friends? Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse? Your kids? Your career? Your money? Your dog? What?
Most of us are afraid to even to there, thinking something like, “I don’t want to tell you what I love because you’re going to tell me I have to give that up!”
Take 5 minutes and watch Father Larry Richards tell this beautiful story about The Man from Crete. It gave me chills.
I'm not sure about you, but I feel that way with a lot of things in my life. I feel this way about God's Plan for my life... like it's somehow a sacrifice of all that I hold dear or something. It’s scary to sacrifice all that we love, because we are fooled into thinking that we are saying goodbye! But God writes our deepest desires on our hearts, he is the author of all that is good and perfect and pleasing in our eyes. He wouldn't have us love something so dear, just to take it away. He just wants to join us in that, and make it perfect.
What (or who) are we holding too close to our hearts? What is our Crete? Our Teddy Bear? Our Only Son?
Is God truly the most important thing in our life right now? Are we willing to give him everything we have, so he can give us everything we’ve ever wanted?
Lent is coming. Are you ready? The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is short and sweet, but packed with so many levels of understanding.
Here’s the Gospel:
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
That first sentence, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert” causes me to stop and think and pray quite a bit. Now, I’m not sure about you, but giving up something for Lent usually does not involve a lot of the Spirit. Usually, it’s me thinking, “I have not been eating well and spend a lot of my time thinking about Food instead of God… so I'll give up sweets for lent.”… or soda… or going out to eat… and then that’s it. Usually within two weeks of Lent, I fail! Hahah sound familiar?
My challenge for you before Lent officially kicks off this Wednesday is to STOP. THINK. and PRAY by inviting the Holy Spirit into your life and let the SPIRIT DRIVE you into your desert, a place that will tempt you, a place that is difficult, a place that is lonely at times, a place where you can let the angels minister to you.
Then this Sunday, when you hear this gospel, that first line, “The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert”, imagine that the Spirit drives Jesus into your desert. Let Jesus fight your battles, your temptations, give them to him. Stop trying to do everything yourself and invite Jesus into your darkest places.
This is Lent. This is difficult. This is why he came and died for us. When we let him fight for us, we get to rise with Him. He is our answer.
What is your desert? Will you let Jesus in it?
As we gear up for the season of Len (WED, FEB 14th!!), I’d like to share something that moved me so deeply about the power and chains of guilt and how we are NOT called to carry guilt around… we are called to confess and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness!
Now, as lent approaches, many of us are thinking about things to ‘give up’. May I suggest the guilt you may be carrying around. You see, the readings for this Sunday are about burdened people who are in need of God’s mercy. God is the Breaker of Chains.
This reminds me of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Mission. Seriously, watch it. You'll bawl like a baby but leave inspired. There is this scenewhere a man (played by de Niro) is carrying around this huge burden of armor as a penance for the sins he committed (He previously persecuted the villagers he is now about to serve by enslaving and selling them for profit, and killing his brother).
This huge pack is slowing him down, making his journey exhausting, but he carries it, believing this burden is somehow justice for the terrible sins he committed. Near the end of his journey, he encounters the people who had persecuted for so long, the people who had every right to hate him. One of these villagers leans over him to cut his burden free. He helps de Niro up and welcome him to their village.
Tears. Letting go. Forgivenss. Freedom.
How many of us are carrying around guilt that slows us down or makes us feel unworthy? How many of us feel that forgiveness for our sins is too generous? How many of us believe we are too far gone for God’s mercy?
God’s mercy and forgiveness are ALWAYS waiting for us. No matter what. No matter who.
Confess your sins and throw that burden away! You’ll feel lighter, better, freer.
Here’s to a weightless lent, you all!
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading from the 1st Chapter of Mark we hear about Jesus healing the sick and driving out demons. Verse 34 states, “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.” Earlier in Mark 1 when Jesus drove out a demon, the demon said, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
I find it quite interesting that the demons that Jesus drove out of possessed people knew who Jesus was and we see throughout the Gospels that they were terrified of Him. Demons were created as angels by God, but they disobeyed Him. They were given knowledge of God but they didn’t have true faith, they rejected God, and they fell from grace.
I imagine most everyone reading this blog post knows at least something about Jesus. Our entire Catholic faith is based on the fact that Jesus is God and that He became man, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again. The point that I want to get across is that it is not enough to just know who Jesus is.
James 2:17-19 explains this by saying, “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”
This passage in James goes on to explain that true faith requires works. If we don’t have good works, our faith is as worthless as the faith that the demons have. We get a great example of how to live out true faith in Hebrews chapter 11. I would encourage anyone to take a few minutes and read this passage of Scripture. Hebrews 11 goes through the Old Testament telling us about heroes of the faith such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and several others. It explains the great faith of these Old Testament men and women. The entire emphasis of the chapter is on faith but the reasons given for these people’s great faith are their works. It says that by faith Noah built an ark and Moses left Egypt. Would Noah have had faith if he said God I believe you but I’m not going to build the ark? I’m going to say no that’s not true faith!
In closing, remember that it is great to know about Jesus and what he did while he was on earth, but to be a true follow of His we all need to be obedient to Him and live out our faith through our actions.
What are you doing and where are you going? The New Year can overwhelm us with the newest ways to get organized, drop weight, and accomplish goals. But is it a distraction from where we need to go?
The readings this Sunday point us in a direction that does not disappoint. I honestly feel like the Psalm 25 is the PERFECT PRAYER For 2018!
R. (4a) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Teach me your ways, O Lord. The perfect, honest statement that starts us on the right track. The psalm shows us what God does when we ask him to show us His ways. He “shows sinners the way, guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.” This is a prayer that is guaranteed to be answered.
BUT are we willing to listen to Him. After he answers your prayer and shows you His way, will you, like Peter and Andrew in the Gospel, abandon your nets and follow him? I know we aren’t fishermen, but we all have a net. We all have a passion, a profession, a way of life (organization projects, school work, careers, whatever!). So if God calls us to something different, would you abandon your nets to follow him?
This Sunday's readings are PERFECT timing for us. I'm not sure about you, but I set New Year's Resolutions for myself but usually mull it over until the second week or so of January before I even decide what I am working towards! When reading the first reading, my heart smiled. Of course this is what I need to work on... LISTENING and following His will. Every second of every day.
Where to start... You DONT have to be a saint to be able to hear God either. It truly doesn’t matter how close or how far away you are from Him. For example, Samuel in our first reading, “was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.” Samuel didn't even recognize God's voice. Perhaps he didn’t know his purpose. But he surrounded himself with good people who did know God (Eli) and Eli told Samuel that GOD was calling him! Do we surround ourselves with faithful people who know God?
After talking to Eli, Samuel listened to the Lord and here’s the most important thing: He told God he was listening. God speaks to us regularly, but do we listen. Do we try? Maybe we think that God’s plan for us will make us unhappy, like that he wants us to pray all day or something. Sounds pretty boring right? Maybe he didn’t make your heart for that. Maybe he made your heart to meet new people and love them for who they are. Maybe he made your heart to encourage and support others quietly, through loyalty and devotion. Maybe he made your heart to teach others about beauty in the world.
You see, each new year people take a step back and re-aligned their lives according to what they think is important: losing weight, eating right, not wasting (as much) time on snap chat, not gossiping, etc. But what if we re-aligned our lives according to what GOD calls us to, to what HE thinks is important.
Here’s the surprise, though. God created us and therefore KNOWS what will fulfill us and make us happy. The Psalm for Sunday says, “to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!" You see, when we are good, we are free-we are happy, joyful, even. But when we make something else more important than God and his will for us, we become distracted. When we are distracted, we float from thing to thing, searching for fulfillment and purpose, and always come up empty.
In the Gospel today, I think some disciples were searching for this peace, this fulfillment, this truth. And when they met Jesus, they asked him for it. He responded, “Come and you will see.”
So for 2018, let’s realign our hearts, minds and bodies towards something bigger, something better, something more unexpected, something perfect. Let’s listen to Him, hearts and ears open.
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.
As we approach the end of the Christmas season, we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord and remember the wise men’s visit to see Baby Jesus. This Epiphany Sunday will be special for me because I am going to a friend’s Confirmation and 1st Communion. Adults, like my friend, who convert to Catholicism often receive the Sacraments of Confirmation and 1st Communion at the same time. Attending my friend’s Confirmation will have special meaning to me because it is at the Church I was confirmed at less than three years ago and will bring back many good memories. As many of you approach your Confirmation, I want to recall to you the very short version of why I converted to Catholicism and why that matters to you.
I grew up in a great, faith-filled Evangelical family. We went to church on Sundays and I attended youth group on Wednesdays. Faith was always a big part of our family life, and I never had any reason or desire to learn about what the Catholic Church teaches. Then, my world was rocked when I met my now wife Kendra! I started dating her even though she was Catholic! I still had no desire or intention of being Catholic and even told Kendra, “I will never be Catholic!”. As we dated longer and our relationship got more serious, me being Protestant and her Catholic became more of an issue. Kendra was adamant that if we were to get married and have kids, our kids would be raised Catholic. I respected what she had to say but didn’t like it. I couldn’t in good faith raise my children to believe something that I didn’t even believe in. Eventually I wanted to learn more about the Catholic Church to see if I could somehow make things work raising Catholic children as an Evangelical Protestant.
I went to mass a lot with Kendra while we were dating (even though a lot of the time I wasn’t overly interested in being there), and I think very slowly, sometimes without even realizing it, I started overcoming misconceptions and seeing things I appreciated about the Catholic Church. Kendra had given me the book Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn and it sat on my shelf unread for a very long time. One night out of the blue I decided to start reading it. That book opened my eyes to wanting to learn more about what the Catholic Church really taught. The book was written by a former Protestant pastor who was very anti-Catholic but had converted to Catholicism. He initially had no desire to be Catholic but through a lot of prayer and study came to recognize the truth and beauty in the Catholic Church. After reading that book, I was ready to learn more. (On a side note, if you are looking for a book that will help you appreciate your Catholic faith more, I would highly recommend Rome Sweet Home. Let me know if you’d like to borrow my copy of the book!)
By God’s grace and after a lot of study, I came to the point where I realized Catholicism is either right and it’s all right and every Christian should be Catholic or if it’s wrong it’s way wrong and I should have nothing to do with it! By that time, I knew it wasn’t way wrong, so it didn’t leave me much of an option! The other thing I realized was I could study Catholic doctrines and Protestant doctrines for years and years to fully understand things and feel comfortable with knowing everything I could about Catholicism. Or I could accept that Jesus established one Church (as shown in the Bible) and gave that Church authority and protection to be free from error in its doctrinal teachings. If I was comfortable with that one teaching of Catholicism, that meant that every other teaching was also true. While it’s obviously still important to know the theology behind Catholic doctrines, accepting the authority of the Church made it less necessary to get buried in the details of proving every doctrine true.
The Eucharist was another huge part of my conversion. If you accept what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist (that Jesus is really present), you can’t really justify not being Catholic! Looking at Scripture passages that I hadn’t paid attention to before really helped me understand the Eucharist such as the following verses from John 6:53-58:
“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The writings of the Early Church Fathers that show the early Church held the same belief about the Eucharist as Catholics hold today and Eucharistic miracles throughout history also opened my eyes to the truth in the Catholic beliefs regarding the Eucharist.
After learning what the Catholic Church actually is and actually teaches, I felt like I didn’t have any other option. I had to be Catholic! I followed God’s will for my life on His terms and not mine, and that led me to joining the Catholic Church. I remember the joy I had because I knew I was being Christ’s disciple. I left some of the first masses I attended after my Confirmation with a smile on my face because I knew I was home and where I was supposed to be.
In closing, I hope you remember that you are part of the one true Church that Jesus founded and recognize how blessed you are to be part of a family that raised you in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the fullness of truth that God has revealed to man and contains so many graces for us all to receive, and God has picked us to be disciples of His in that church! As you prepare for Confirmation, I hope you appreciate the blessing that the Catholic Church is. This is the Church that Jesus founded 2000 years ago, and while the Church is full of sinners because we all sin, Jesus gave us the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. His Church and His true disciples will ultimately be faithful to the truth and will conquer death! You are all part of that Church through your baptism, but it is your choice to stay faithful to God and to daily answer God’s call to holiness.
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.