Thursday, February 14, 2019

Appeal more to the Heart than to the Head

Hard to believe, but Lent is right around the corner.  One of the traditions the churches offers during this time to help us move into the right interior space is praying the Stations of the Cross.  As Gary Jansen, author of the book 'Station to Station', states

"The Stations reveal the lowest point in Jesus’ life and, in turn, the Stations resonate with the difficult times we experience in life as well as the tough times that we hold in our memories. In this way, the Stations appeal more to the heart than they do to the head"
Recently Gary was interviewed about his book on Word on Fire, and I share this today so that you may consider walking with Christ through his suffering as part of your Lenten journey.  The interview can be found at the link below...

https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/station-to-station-an-interview-with-gary-jansen/5379/

God Bless -

Jim

Friday, February 8, 2019

Dear Younger Me,

So the Youth Ministry program is preparing for a retreat for the upperclassmen.  One of the activities we are asking the teens to do, is to write a letter to our younger selves.  If now as an upperclassman in high school, you could go back and talk to the 8thgrade you, what would you say?  What advice would you give?

The more I thought about it, I realized what a good exercise that is.  We are all very willing to give advice to others, but here we must reflect back on our own lives, our own choices, from a new, hopefully wiser perspective.

I remember the movie Shawshank Redemption.  Red was facing the parole board, yet again and was asked if he was rehabilitated.  His reply…

There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him -- tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone and this old man is all that's left. I gotta live with that.

So we all have moments in our life where we can look back and contemplate how we’ve grown, or how we’ve changed.  So here is my attempt at the assignment:

Dear Younger Me,

Here you are, 21 years old, full of so much enthusiasm and ambition.  You graduated college early, you have a full time job, the wedding is only a few months away.  Soon you will have everything you’ve ever dreamed of.  Finally, your hard work has paid off and you can be happy.

Well you are 25 now.  This sales racket is a bit tougher than you’d thought.  All your friends make more money than you do.  You have a child now and a mortgage payment.  This was supposed to be your dream come true.  Why does it feel like so much work and struggle?  You're sure you just need to grit your teeth and push.  The finish line is so close you can taste it.

You’re 33 years old.  Man it went quick.  You have four healthy kids, a beautiful wife, your dream vacation home, the luxury car.  Now you have it all.  Finally, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  But in that moment, you know deep down that you aren’t happy.  Why?  A friend told me once, “Ben, sometimes you are so busy climbing a ladder, you don’t check to see what building it’s leaning against.“

Son, let me offer you some advice from a man who has a few more years under his belt and knows you well.  At some point you need to realize that your life isn’t about you.  The happiness and relief you are looking for is never going to be found in worldly things.  No matter how much money, power, popularity, or fame you can capture here, it will never satisfy you.  Don’t you notice that once you get what you were striving for, days later you are searching and struggling again?  Saint Augustine put it well when he said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  The journey you are on is a foolish one.  It revolves around self promotion, pride, and constant competition.  If you envision Jesus on one side and Satan on another, who do you think is smiling and laughing as you constantly rush through your life looking for happiness?

The peace you long for has been there waiting for you, your whole life.  You’ve had glimpses of it.  You’ve experienced it.  But your sinfulness tends to block the graces that come from it.

It’s hard to see you fight and struggle so hard, and come away so empty.  I wish you could here me.  I wish you could realize that it’s not success in your endeavours that you are called to fight for.  It’s faithfulness.  Deep down you know things will be ok.  You don’t have to control everything.  You don’t have to strive for comfort and be terrified of failure or hardship.

Here you are in your 40’s.  The scales have fallen from you eyes.  You see now that the path to happiness is not through work, but through faith.  However, be careful here.  You are going to spend several years believing that material success is bad and holiness is good.  As that belief takes hold, you will find yourself in conflict.  Why did God give me ambition?  Why is it bad to work hard and use my talents?  It will begin to feel like you are two different people.  One who is a selfish, greedy sinner and other who is a dutiful servant of God.

You are getting closer, but there is something you need to understand.  Winning in this world, however you may define it, itsn’t wrong.  Money isn’t bad.  Your longing to be accepted by your friends, or admired by your family isn’t the problem.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to give you more rules.  He came to change your heart.  He is calling you to detachment.   Love your work, but don’t become addicted to it.  Long to be admired, but don’t define yourself by other’s opinion of you.  When you have worldly happiness, God is happy for you, and wants to celebrate with you.  Your faith life isn’t supposed to feel like eating your vegetables.  It’s supposed to feel like the best meal you’ve ever had.

So my advice to you now is to slow down.  Savor the beauty around you.  Be in the moment with the people you love.  You’ve spent a lifetime being there, but not really being present.  You know now that success is not living the American dream and having the matching sweaters in your Christmas photo, but you also know that God isn’t asking you to forget about your responsibilities and spiritually whip yourself for your sinfulness.  Believe it or not, the image of total success is Jesus crucified.  That is true detachment.  Look at him.  He doesn’t have wealth, power, or popularity, but on that cross, he is happier that you have ever been.  He knows he is perfectly doing the will of God.

That’s all you need to do.  Everything else in life will sort itself out.  Trust me.  Step outside tonight, and look up at the stars.   Go watch your daughter’s deep breathing while she sleeps.  Then go to adoration and feel the love that has never left you, even at the times you couldn’t feel it.

It’s time to take your puppet strings off.  It’s time for you to realize who you are, and whose you are.  You’ve carried this for too long.  Let him take it, and for the first time in your life, feel the joy that comes from finally being free.



Sunday, January 27, 2019

Water


The hour was about noon.  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Give me water to drink.”  The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew.  How can you ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

            Jesus replied: “If only you recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him instead, and he would have given you living water.”  …
            “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.  But whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty; no, the water I give shall become a fountain within him, leaping up to provide eternal life.” 
This brief excerpt comes from the longest conversation Jesus held with an individual that we have recorded in scripture; the Samaritan woman at the well.  John 4:4-42.

She walks to the well at noon, the least likely time others will be there.  She can avoid others.  Others can avoid her.  She lives anonymously with a poor reputation.  She is the village benchmark for “failure.”
Standing at the well in the mid-day sun, Jesus takes the first step.  He ignores the custom never to speak to such a woman in public.  In the center of town in broad daylight, he initiates conversation.  She is the wrong gender, the wrong culture, has a scandalous reputation.  Jesus offers living water.  She doesn’t ask.  Jesus has no “failure” category.
Jesus knows her past and offers her a future of new life!  He makes the offering visible to her and to us in so many ways!

Water is quite unique in that in its solid form, ice; it floats on its liquid form.  Would it not be for this unusual property, life as we know it would not exist on earth.  Most solid forms are denser than their liquid forms and sink in their liquids (i.e. Frozen solid alcohol sinks in liquid alcohol.  It does not float.)  Plankton, the most prolific food source on earth, depends upon ice floating and insulating the waters below it so that organisms may grow and multiply.  If this was not the case, lakes and oceans would freeze from the bottom up and life would eventually cease.  New life springs from these waters!  Our lives spring from the waters Jesus offers!
The human body is over 65% water.  We are basically bodies of running water.  We take it in.  It runs through us.  We’re physically integrated into the universe, into creation.
 During his baptism, did Jesus lay back into the hands of the Baptist as if he was surrendering, dying?  Did the water smother the sins of the human race as Jesus submerged?  And when John lifted Jesus’ head from the water, was the face of Jesus beaming with life and joy?  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all present at baptism – new life revealed, given freely!

Water can …
Introduce the Holy Spirit, baptize
Wash away sin
Drown, overwhelm
Quench thirst
Extinguish fire
Carry us
Wash away disease, heal
Form tears
Bless
Dissolve flavor
Sooth, comfort, refresh
Storms, flood
Green our deserts
Trickle, fall, splash
Be converted to wine
Water is so pervasive, its rarity like its sacredness escapes us.

            Water connects us to the Divine!

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”  ….
     Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.  John 2:1-11.

The disciples only began to believe in Him.  Though Jesus converted the water to wine during the intimate ceremony of the wedding feast, this act was not enough!  I, too, am like the disciples, only beginning this process of coming to build a relationship with Jesus.  I, like the Samaritan woman, like the guests at the wedding feast; I need the waters Jesus offers.  AND I need it in its many forms and actions; to savor it, see it, feel it, hear it.  I need to accept it, relish it often. 

“Do whatever he tells you!”