Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You aren't giving anything up for Lent.

Matthew 16:26

What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Here we are on the cusp of Lent, a season often thought of as a time of sacrifice and deprivation.  The world already thinks we are crazy for it, because in its’ view more is always better and you need MORE to be happy.  But what I am about to drop on you is going to make the world see you as even crazier, because I’m about to tell you a sneaky truth: you aren’t giving up anything at Lent, you are gaining.

I think we must examine the way we think of this time of year in our Church.  We think of Lent as a time to give up something, which by that thinking, makes us feel we are depriving ourselves, but is that actually what we are doing?  Deprivation is by definition a “Damaging lack of basic needs.”  By that understanding, we begin to understand that we CAN be deprived of air (which is obviously something we need to live), but if we stop eating chocolate we aren’t ACTUALLY going to die, so we aren’t being deprived.  In the second example, what we are doing by giving it up is shedding an unneeded luxury, something we have, perhaps, told ourselves we “need” to be happy or complete.  We may even be walking away from something that, up to that point, we have depended on (rather than God) to make us feel more happy and complete.  (That is us buying into the world’s lie that we need _______ (fill in your own blank) to be happier or more fulfilled.)  So, what we are doing is not depriving ourselves of a need, but shedding a potential barrier between us and God.  After all, God wants us to depend on him in times of stress, and if we are depending on something the world provides then we are not leaning where we should. 

This means, in part, Lent to me, is not a time of giving up as much as it is a shedding of chains and barriers that keep me enslaved to the world’s view of happiness and peace.  God not only provides for the perceived lack as we shed from ourselves these things we do not really need, He gives to us in abundance by telling us exactly what to plug into their place.

Philippians 4:8-10

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In this we are being taught that if we shed what the world considers happiness, not only are we gaining our freedom and our souls, we are being told we can feast in abundance on whatever is noble, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy and in doing that we will have the VERY PEACE OF GOD.  If we embrace this during Lent, then we realize all that we can shed are  the illusions we are holding onto of peace, things that keep us enslaved to poverty of spirit.  We are giving up smoke and mirrors to embrace truth, peace, and love.  We are giving up the temporary to embrace the Eternal.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? 

There is a catch. 

The catch is that if we want to be truly free, we can’t just live it during Lent.  We can start it then, but we have to make this truth an intrinsic part of our existence-every day, in every way, for as long as we live.  In order to do that, we must truly see that we are shedding (leaving behind) unneeded, ungodly, unworthy things.  We are not being deprived.  We are taking possession of the Eternal Life, Truth and LOVE of God. 

Ask God what you should shed during Lent, and do not be afraid to answer the call.  The truth will set us free, and we will be free indeed.  (John 8: 32)

Food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Anger, the fire that burns only us

The last week’s reading has been haunting me provoking me to pay attention to my interactions with people around me.  I suppose it’s due to the political and social climate at the moment since name calling is becoming a second nature language to us all these days.  You almost can’t put a finger on a friends list or church directory without touching someone’s name who is mad at someone else, be it the priest, government official, fellow parishioner, or……insert person here.  It’s super easy these days to find outrage (some justified others indicative of a lack of communication or understanding).  I don’t think this is a new condition.  Living in the age of technology it may seem new, but really all technology has allowed us to do is instantly express our every thought in a very public way.  In Jesus time if we were outraged we had to get out of the house and travel down to the public forums, wait our turn to speak, and then let it fly.  That or we could announce it to the hand full of people around us, which then could spread through rumors and gossip.  Now, we only need update one of our social media statuses and we have the instant gratification of a semi-captive audience.  In other words, computers help us do stupid things faster. 

With all this in mind, it prompted me to consider our Christ’s words in the reading.  What is he saying, what is he not saying, what am I supposed to do if I am attempting to be His saint in training?  I have some thoughts I’ll share.

In the Matt 5 reading Jesus acknowledges that even amongst the faithful there would be disagreements.  We are imperfect after all, but if we consider that Jesus himself was PERFECT and people disagreed and hated him (I mean duh they killed him for his perfection and humility), then it shouldn’t shock us that in our interactions we will-at times-find ourselves in contention with one another.  He says as much in the passage “if you find yourself angry”.   So he is telling us he knows it’s going to happen.  The interesting thing here is that he isn’t picking sides.  He doesn’t say, if you are right or they are right or they are wrong.  It doesn’t seem to matter to him.  What does matter is the way we handle the situation and he tells us as much.  In fact, as we read on, we see it matters so much how we handle our anger that to act wrongly puts us in jeopardy of judgement.  Think about that for a moment.  Consider the anger you have now or in the past and ask yourself if the anger (cost) is worth the price of eternal separation from the kingdom of God!  And what He also seems to be saying here is that it isn’t HIM that puts us there, but we ourselves who have chosen to embrace the judgement rather than taking the steps that keep us on the path of Holiness. 

Is Jesus serious about this?  Well, when he teaches us to pray in the Our Father he pretty specifically says, “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.”  Yes, I did yell that too, because it is important.  We are asking the Almighty every time we pray that to forgive us, but only to the level we are willing to forgive others.  

I sense a theme!  Jesus knows we aren’t perfect and that we are going to struggle-bus through personal relationships.  So, he builds in this lovely grace, he gives us the instant roadmap out of the enslavement of sin, if we are obedient.  He tells us to do the right thing by our brothers and sisters, go to them and work it out.  It’s so important that He even seems to be instructing us to do it BEFORE we approach the alter.  (Matt 5: 23-24)  To me, that is telling me that barriers in my relationship can create barriers between me and my Heavenly Father. 

In this light, suddenly the 20 bucks my uncle borrowed and never paid back doesn’t seem worth being angry over at all, let alone allowing it to stand as a wall between me and eternity.  In fact-nothing in the temporary kingdom of earth seems worth sacrificing the eternal kingdom of heaven for!  Thinking about it like this, I want to run around making sure I’ve done the right thing.  Hey, Brandy, I’m sorry I kicked you in the shin when we were in second grade…I don’t know what I was thinking, obviously I wasn’t. 

As long as we are breathing, it’s not too late.  Let’s make it right together!

Just some food for thought and prayer!

Here I am, Lord, send me! 
LLB, Kolbe Evangelization Commission chair

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love is our choice

Valentine’s day is tomorrow and in our modern culture we focus on romantic love.  To me though, it is a day to remind people they are loved, not just in a romantic sense but in an all-encompassing way. Of course, I can’t think of this without thinking of the last command of our Savior to love one another as He had loved us.  This inspires so many thoughts so I want to share a couple for you now….

In Jesus example love is not necessarily an emotion, though it can evoke emotion, but more importantly it is a choice we make.  In the garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus kneeled and prayed, he was sweating blood (Luke 22: 43-44).  That is a real and rare medical phenomenon called hematidrosis.  It is brought about by extreme mental or physical stress/anxiety that causes the capillaries to burst.  (Talk about a love that evokes an emotion!)  He prays that if it is possible let the cup pass, but he submits as well and makes the choice to, not only love us, but love the Father and His will.  (Matt 26: 36-56)  He does this three times.  So, he makes the choice and keeps making the choice.  It is a beautiful example how we must make the choice and keep making the choice for love.  Love of the father, love of our family, of our husbands and wives, of our neighbor…It isn’t just a one-time thing, but a time after time commitment.  We can also notice in this example that the emotion of love isn’t always butterflies and marshmallows but gritted teeth and blood sweat.  Love makes the choice when it isn’t easy to do.   

Love is also sacrifice.  Actually, all love is sacrifice.  We may not be called to die for love, like our Messiah was, but we are all called to sacrifice for love, because all real love is sacrifice.  Sacrifice is the act of giving up or surrendering something for the sake of something else, which all real love does.  Love isn’t getting our own way all the time, it is giving patiently, gently, kindly, and without keeping score.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)  We are called to this divine measure as Jesus commanded us, not just for those who are easily loveable but to all those around us whether they are worthy or not.  If we are living by His example, in fact, especially those who aren’t worthy because let’s face it….who among us was worthy of even one drop of his spilled blood?  I find myself in tears when I read the account of His crucifixion begging Him that I am not worthy of what He is doing.  Yet, He sacrificed Himself not because we were worthy, but because He knew what His love could  make us. 

That brings me to my last point.   Just like the example of Jesus’ love, when we love each other as He did, we are bringing out the best in ourselves and each other.  We can see this in the stories of our Saints, like Valentine, who were obedient to God in “Loving one another as He loved us.” even unto death.  We can also see it in our Church family in those who make the choice every day to submit their will, sacrifice what they have, and love us as He loved us.  This is our choice, one we need to make every day. 

Just some food for thought and prayer, in love.

Here I am, Lord, send me…


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Be still

Tehillim 46:10-11Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
10 (11) Be still, and know that I am Elohim: I will be exalted among the Goyim, I will be exalted in ha’aretz.
11 (12) Hashem Tzva’os is with us; Elohei Ya’akov is our stronghold. Selah.

Psalm 46:10-11New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.[a]Selah

I find myself revisiting this Psalm in times of trouble and following the instruction to Selah (pause and reflect).  The passage starts us off with a command to, essentially, pause and reflect and ends us the same way.  STOP what you are doing.  Be still. REFLECT that I am God.  In the end, he reminds us again that He is the God of Jacob, the exhausted of many nations and of the Earth itself and that HE is our refuge. 

I cannot think of this without then thinking of Mark 4:39.  The storm was raging around the disciples and Jesus called out, “PEACE and Be STILL.”  (The word peace he uses there is literally, “Hush” which always made me wonder if he was hushing his disciples and telling the waves to be still, or both. Either way, both did as they were commanded.) 

Today we live in a time of unprecedented stimulus.  Phones, TV, Internet, Ipods, radio, 3D, virtual reality, movies, games, and so on and so forth inundate us with a constant flow of distraction. We have so much that we can, quite literally, be connected with something from the time we wake until the time we fall asleep.  You would think that this would be an age of true connection.  You would think that today, people of all walks of life would feel more unity around them.  We talk constantly and instantly.  In a moment, our thoughts, desires, and needs can be communicated to one or to many.  Yet, many people feel completely disconnected from their churches, their families, their neighbors, their lives, and their God.  (Yes, even though we can get 40 different bible translations and cross reference God’s word from the original text, we don’t have a clue that we don’t have a clue that we don’t feel connected to Him.)

So, I am brought back to our Psalm.  If I cannot find my connection in the noise, perhaps I can find the connection in the stillness.  Which, I think, makes us all a bit queasy.  We WANT the silence filled.  We WANT to talk even if we don’t have anything quality to say.  We WANT to hear the things we can hear because we fear we won’t hear anything in the silence. 

In Mark 4:40, Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  He is saying this after giving His disciples refuge from the storm, after they have clamored for help, and after He has called for silence. This is important. 

We cannot fill the void with our own voices, when we try we talk ourselves into fear.  We cannot distract away our need for connection, but we try.  We cannot externally stimulate ourselves to peace or faith.  What we can do, what we should do every day, is unplug and do as God says….”Be still, and know that I am God.”  He is our refuge.

Some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me, 
 Lisa Lee Brandel