Father, Forgive Me

Holy Saturday. My contemplative day. The day of limbo. The day of reflection, of sadness. The world has just finished murdering Jesus. He has not yet risen. The day that he is absent from the world because of the world. The day I wonder whether He is absent from me because of me.

It is easy to read the story of the crucifixion and blame those involved. How could Judas who walked with Jesus betray him? How could Pontius Pilate, who knew it was wrong, allow it to happen? How could Peter, who Jesus chose to build His church upon, who had followed Jesus for three years, deny Him? How could the people choose a murderer over Jesus? How could the soldiers and people along the way mock Him and chant things like: “he saved others; he cannot save himself.” “Let him come down from the cross now and we will believe in him.” “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him.”

I used to look down on all of these folks. I would surely do better. I would not be so stupid. And yet the story of the crucifixion is the story of all of our sins.

Judas knew Jesus for three years, I have known Him my whole life. And yet, I too choose silver, screens, and other earthly “treasures” over Jesus at times (more times than I would like to admit). I too provide lip service at times, providing a kiss in public, but betraying Jesus behind closed doors.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

Pilate knew that crucifying Jesus was wrong, but he didn’t want to get involved. He didn’t want to go against the crowd. If I had the power to save Jesus from the pain and torture, would I have? I would like to think so, and yet my sin contributes to His pain. I, too, have followed the crowd. I have decided not to get involved when I knew wrong was occurring, because it was easier for me.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

What I wouldn’t give to be Peter. To be able to sit with Jesus, talk with Jesus, learn from Jesus, embrace Jesus. He had it all! And yet he denied Him three times. I always blame Peter the most. Maybe that is why I sometimes struggle with the Church, with the priests and bishops, who have it all and still seem to turn so far away. Surely, I will not deny Jesus. Though others may have their faith shaken, mine will never be… And yet… it is. Peter had three years. I have had my entire life. Peter may have been with Jesus in the flesh. But I have weekly and daily communion available to me. Peter did not know or understand the resurrection. I know about the resurrection. I know the Truth. I can read the written gospels and have the benefit of two thousand years of church teaching. Why do I still deny? Why do I still hide my faith? Peter was afraid. Despite all that I know, I too am sometimes afraid, even though Jesus tells me not to be. Even though I know everything on earth is temporary, even though I know that if I have faith, I have nothing to fear.

Father, forgive me. I wish I could say I know not what I do, but sometimes I do and I do it anyway. Father, forgive me. I do not want a world without you. I do not want my life without you.

I am no different from the villains in Jesus’ story. I have betrayed Him, ignored Him, denied Him and turned my back on Him. I have mocked or doubted and I have been afraid. I may not physically nail Him to a cross, but my sins are just as painful. My rejection of His love is just as hurtful as those mocking him on the road. Father, forgive me!

I know it is easy to be remorseful as we are painfully reminded of the Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday and as we sit today and are assured of the resurrection tomorrow.

Lord, help my heart and mind and spirit be resurrected this Easter. I want to always turn to you. Help me turn away from silver and the fake “treasures” that this world tries to offer. Help me to be strong in my faith. Help me not be turned by the will of the crowd. Help me to lead, not to follow. Help me to share your love and your word. As I look around, I see a world that is run by fear. I know that when I am focused on you, I have no fear. When my faith is strong, I have no fear. Lord, I know that in your hands, I am safe. I know that safe does not mean free from suffering, but that there is a resurrection promised. Lord, give me the strength and faith that I need. I do not want to turn away any more. I don’t want to contribute any further nails, I don’t want to be distracted by silver, I don’t want to live by fear and have my faith shaken. I know that I cannot promise, like Peter tried, that my faith won’t be shaken. I know that I am not strong enough to overcome fear on my own. And I know that I am a sinner and will continue to cause you pain. But I know that Your love is stronger than all things, including nails, silver and fear. Help me Father to always turn to you, to always return to you. Help me to remember you passion for me every day not just during the Easter season. Help me to follow you and not the crowd. Help me to love, as you do. Forgive me when I fail.

2020: So much to be thankful for

A Thanksgiving like no other. A year like no other. Nothing is the same this year. We have learned that we cannot count on anything. Thanksgiving is different. Football is different. School is different. Work is different. Politics is different. Even Black Friday is different. Only one thing remains the same . . .

And as important as family is, its not family. Even family looks different this year. We may be spending more time with some and less time with others. Anxiety and depression may be impacting our relations. We may be forced to distance from some by law or guilt or shame. And we may have lost members due to the pandemic, or violence or any number of other reasons.

And as important as church is, its not church. Churches have shut their doors, limited their praise and worship, become divided, and distanced themselves from their purpose. Some have become mired in scandal and corruption.

2020 has spared no one and no thing. Basketball legends, rock and roll stars, television stars have passed away. Political leaders, historical figures, saints and popes have been called into question. The environment has been ravaged by Australian bush fires, wild fires, and hurricane after hurricane.

We cannot even rely on the local grocery store having toilet paper.

Nothing remains the same. No one has not been impacted. What is left for us to rely on when the government, the economy, the healthcare system, the retailers, and even the churches let us down?

God. God hasn’t changed. God hasn’t shut down. God hasn’t socially distanced. In a year when we cannot count on anything to be the same, including family gatherings, we can still count on God.

Perhaps this is why, Jesus tells that we must renounce all things in order to be His disciple:

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:26-33

As hard as 2020 has seemed, I see it as a gift. A gift of vision and wisdom which I am incredibly thankful for. Its hard to do what Jesus tells us we must do in order to follow Him. But 2020 has made it a little easier. We have had many things taken away: family gatherings, fancy weddings, graduation parties, sporting events, movie theaters, restaurants and even toilet paper. Our health has been jeopardized and the entire world is paralyzed. And yet, it may be the most glorious year. I have discovered I don’t need television and movies (my two favorite past times). I don’t need my favorite football or baseball team. I don’t need celebrities, politicians, business leaders or church leaders. I don’t need holidays or family gatherings. I don’t need church buildings or services. I just need God, the only true constant, the only one we can truly rely upon. Everything else, everyone else, is secondary. Like the builder and the king, I have a better sense of the cost and the value. I know I am capable of finishing the work and taking on the battle. And because I have taken advantage of some of the isolation and down time to draw closer to God, I know it is worth it. Of course, this is easier when there is nothing else to do. There is still work to be done to gird myself for this battle, when other options try to distract me or encourage me to give up my cross for the supposed luxuries of today. I still need to choose every day to put God first, but 2020 has given me hope.

Dear God,

Thank you for the gift of 2020. Thank you for taking away so many distractions and opening up my eyes and ears and heart to you. I renounce everything that is of this world, in order to put you first in my life. I pray for the strength to continue on this journey even when the distractions return. You alone are my Lord and my savior. With you I know I need want for nothing more.

Just Keep Praying

It is Groundhog Day!  One of my favorite days of the year.  Remember the movie about Groundhog Day where the day just keeps repeating itself?  I thought about that as I left church this morning.

Lately, I have been frustrated because I feel like I am stuck in an endless cycle.  I have been repeatedly praying for God’s help with a situation and it does not seem to be improving.  Indeed, I was starting to think of giving up.  As I thought about this and Groundhog Day, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable:

Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

And then I thought of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

(This also made me think of Dory in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”)

And then I suddenly realized how silly it was for me to get frustrated with things not moving forward as quickly as I would like.  I am grateful that God is more patient than me.  He too may think that our relationship often feels like Groundhog Day, as He watches me commit the same sins and make the same mistakes over and over again.  (One of those sins is not being as forgiving of others.)  Thankfully, God does not tire of forgiving me.  Thankfully, God does not tire of my impatience.  Thankfully God, is much more patient than me.

And then I thought about the shadow that the groundhog sees.  Sometimes we get stuck in our own shadow.  Sometimes, we only see the dark side of what is going on.  But there is no shadow too dark for God.  And regardless of whether we see our shadow (just like regardless of whether the groundhog sees its shadow), Spring is coming, renewal is coming.  Sometimes it just may take a little longer.  In the meantime, we need to just keep praying, just keep praying.

Lord,

Thank you for being there even when I am lost in the shadows.  Thank you for your patience when I fail again and again.  I know that you hear my prayers.  I know that you will what is good for me.  I know that your plans are better than mine.  I have faith in you.  I will keep rejoicing in you and praying in thanksgiving.  Lord, I want to be a light, not a shadow on the world.   I pray for renewal for me and those around me.  We are ready for Spring.  Shine your light upon us.  Break through the cold hearts.  Fill us with love.  Build your kingdom here!  Help us to just keep praying.  I trust that you will answer in your time, in your way.   Help me to listen and follow and never give up.

Do this is memory of me

This morning at Catholic mass, I heard the words that are familiar to so many of us:

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”

Luke 22:19

I have heard these words every week since before I was old enough to know what the words meant.  And today, for the first time, I think I understood them.

Jesus commands us to do this in memory of Him.  But do what?  I have always believed that He was just telling us to go to church on Sunday and celebrate the Eucharist.  But today, I focused on the actual words.  This is my body, which will be given for you. Jesus is giving up his body… for us.  He is giving himself… for us.  “Do this in memory of me.”  This is what He is calling us to do.  Give ourselves for others.  Give ourselves to Jesus. Its not just about breaking bread or drinking wine.  He is calling us to do.  He is calling us to give.  He is calling us to love.  John captures His words in this way:

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:12-13

“Do this in memory of me.”  It is a tall order.  Just showing up at mass on Sunday is a lot easier.  Give myself for someone else?  Lay down my life for someone else?  Lay down my wants and needs for someone else?  Put someone else ahead of me?  Ouch.  I can barely hand over the remote control. But this is what Jesus calls us to do.  This is what true love is.  It’s not just the romantic love we see on tv. It’s not lust.  It’s not sex.  It’s not just enjoying the other person’s company.  It is giving one’s self, putting one’s own needs to the side, and laying down one’s life for someone else.

And today at mass, as the priest said these words, I got it.  Jesus loves me.  Jesus gave his life for me.  How can I not try (and I say try, because I know I will fail) to give myself fully to God, as He gave Himself to me?

Jesus,

You came to earth to show us what love is.  A love so strong and pure that we cannot fathom its depths.  Our own selfish needs, or more accurately “wants”, keep us from being capable of the love that you shared.  And yet you still call us to do it.  Jesus I love you with all of the love that I am capable of today, but I want to love you deeper.  Help me to continue to grow.  I want to give myself fully to you.  Help me to love here on earth with the love that you have shared.  Help me to give up my selfish ways and let go of the need to control.  Help me to give myself for the others I encounter.

 

My Spirit Rejoices

My spirit rejoices in God my savior!

Today the Bible opened to Mary’s words before the birth of Jesus.  Mary models how I want to live.  Her strength and faithfulness inspire me.

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.  He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.  The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55

I am stuck on the first line:  My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  Is there a difference between soul and spirit?  For me, soul is that deep inner part, the root of our being, our inner most self, the part that is our truest being.   That is the part that Mary says proclaims the greatness of God.  That is the truest of proclamations — not just a Sunday morning proclamation.  It is not her mouth or her hands or her brain that proclaims it — but her soul.  A part that does not lie or fake or just follow the crowd.

Mary goes on to state: My spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For me, spirit is the part that we share with others. Mary knows to the depths of her soul that God is great, but she does not keep it there, she shares it with others.  Her spirit rejoices in God.

I want to know God in the depths of my soul.  And I want my spirit to rejoice in Him.

God, you are great indeed.  Fill my inner heart.  Fill my soul.  Help me to follow Mary’s model of faithfulness and strength.  Help me to trust in you, like she did.  Help me to share your love with the world.  My spirit rejoices in you!

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners!

BC — beyond comprehension

I have been struggling all day with the Bible’s words.  This morning, the Bible opened to Luke, where Jesus talks about John the Baptist.  There is a similar passage in Matthew.  I read both, read the footnotes and read a few commentaries, and I am still not sure what Jesus is telling me:

I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  (All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

“Then to what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like?  They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,  ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.  We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.’  For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’  But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Luke 7:28-35

The best I can discern is that Jesus is telling us that as great as John was, he preceded the kingdom of heaven.  He preceded Jesus’ death and resurrection, preceded Jesus’ opening the gates of heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  My first thought is how fortunate am I to have been born when I was.  My second thought is one of utter awe and amazement.  I am suddenly struck by just how huge Jesus’s coming was.  Jesus’ love and grace changed the world — changed heaven.  And there is no way to compare what was before with what occurred after.  And there is no way for me to truly comprehend life before Christ.

Lord,

I continue to be amazed by you.  By your love and grace.  By your words and plan.  I am humbled.  I know that it is a gift of which I am not worthy and yet is freely given.  I seek your wisdom.  I seek you.  Help me to listen so that I might see.

Whole Heart

Today I did not randomly open the Bible — instead the Bible verse (actually verses) was thrust upon me on the radio this morning.  I heard an interview with Brandon Heath where he talked about the reason for his song Whole Heart.  He talked about the Bible telling us to seek God with our whole heart, trust God with our whole heart and love God with our whole heart.  He spoke of 3 bible verses.  I was driving so I could not write them down, but these are the ones I found tonight:

Seek God With Your Whole Heart:

Yet when you seek the LORD, your God, from there, you shall indeed find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.  In your distress, when all these things shall have come upon you, you shall finally return to the LORD, your God, and listen to his voice.  Since the LORD, your God, is a merciful God, he will not abandon or destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.

Deuteronomy 4:29-31

When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me—oracle of the LORD—and I will change your lot.

Jeremiah 29: 12-14

Until I heard the radio interview this morning, I never thought about whether I am seeking God with my whole heart.  Instead, I am afraid most times I go about it half heartedly.  If I am not busy with something else, if it’s not too difficult, if it’s Sunday morning or there is a religious event that can do the work for me.  I am not sure I am doing it with my whole heart, with my whole being.

Trust God With Your Whole Heart

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

This is probably my hardest of the three.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  My mind overpowers my heart and tries to rely on its own intelligence.  I find it hard to let go.  I think more often than not I reach for God, but with one hand I still hold on to the edge of the pool.  Trust with all your heart.  I need to make my other hand let go.  I need to trust that God will keep me afloat.  He has never given me any reason to doubt.

Love God With Your Whole Heart

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.  Take to heart these words which I command you today.  Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”  He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28

Love God with all your heart, all your being, all your strength and all your mind.   I love the instructions in Deuteronomy:  Take to heart these words which I command you today.  Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

There is no one more deserving of our love than God — this one shouldn’t be hard, but sometimes I know I still put myself first.  Sometimes I still put false idols, electronics, tv shows, candy crush, football games and even chicken wings first.  I do not want to do that, but as I think about it now, I allow this to happen because I am not approaching God with my whole heart.  Too often I am approaching Him with only my Sunday heart — just 1/7 of my heart.

The Bible tells us:

  1.  Seek God with all of your heart — and you will find Him, He will return you to Him and He will change your lot.
  2. Trust God with all your heart and he will make straight your paths.
  3. Love God with all your heart and you shall live.

Wow!  As it was this morning when I heard these three together, my mind is blown.  My heart is stretching.  The instructions are simple.  Following them is hard, unless we do it with our whole heart, so there isn’t room for distraction.  If we only do it half heartedly — we leave room in our heart and in our being to be led astray.  We need to fill it up with God.

I am up for the challenge.  I am ready to let go of the pool’s edge.  Let go with me!

Lord, help us!

 

GPS: God’s Plans Save

GPS — Global positioning system.  Our navigational tool.  It always seems to know where we are, where the closest fueling station is and how far to the nearest McDonalds. We rely on it for direction.  We rely on it to show us where to go and to get us to where we are going.

This morning I was headed to a meeting when my GPS suddenly changed from an 8:00am arrival time to a 9:10am  arrival time.  Within moments I was sitting in traffic in between two exits on the highway with no way to reroute.  Sitting.  Still.  Not moving at all — I was 10 miles away from where I was supposed to be and my projected arrival time kept getting later and later.  I was going to be late.  Since I was completely stopped in traffic (I promise I did not text and drive),  I pulled out my phone to send a quick email to the person I was supposed to meet.  I started typing that according to my GPS I was going to be late.  I typed gps and as soon as I hit the spacebar, gps turned to God.  I felt an instant warm tingle.  GPS — my navigational tool — was autocorrected to God.  GPS the thing I was blaming for slowing me down had autocorrected to God.  I tried it several more times — and each time I typed the letters gps and hit the space bar, the word changed to God.  Hmmm.  Was He trying to tell me something?  I thought about that as I sat in traffic for another hour and as I finally passed the accident that had shut down the highway, thankful that I wasn’t in it.

Later this evening, as I was driving home, I somehow found myself in another traffic jam.  Once again I was stuck on the highway between two exits with no way to reroute and the GPS was telling me I was now 3 hours and 50 minutes away from home (instead of the hour and a half I should have been).  I was bored.  The entire highway was at a standstill.  We were not moving anytime soon.  I pulled out my phone and tried typing gps on a text to see if it would autocorrect  — I was disappointed to see it did not autocorrect on my text and remained gps.  Maybe it was just a fluke this morning.   Or maybe it only worked on email.  I decided to text my sisters to see if when they typed an email it changed the word gps to God.  Wouldn’t it be cool if I told them to email something like “I love my gps!”  or “Follow gps” and it changed to I love my God or Follow God.  I decided on “I need gps.”   I texted them  asking them to email me this phrase and as soon as I typed I need gps — it autocorrected to “I need God”.  A moment ago when I typed gps it recognized it as a word, but when I texted “I need gps” — it automatically changed to “I need God”.  Was God talking to me?  I fixed the text message so it told them to text or email “I need gps” and waited for what I hoped was a stream of emails or text messages that said “I need God.” Instead they all came back “I need  gps.”

Now I was certain God was trying to tell me something.  But what?  At this point I had been up since 3:30, had driven or been stuck in traffic for almost 8 hours total, and had spent 6 hours in a meeting, so I was a little tired and a little slow.  Then it hit me.  Duh! God is the only GPS I need.  I need to rely on Him for direction.  This was not really a new lesson– but one for which I can always use a reminder.   But I felt there was more.  I put my hands up in the air and asked (I was still sitting in traffic) — what direction are you telling me to take?  And I looked at the traffic around me and at the gps that was still taunting me with a red line representing the traffic on the route and the added time it was telling me the journey would take.  And I thought — how strange that twice today I have been sitting (literally sitting)  — forced to sit still in traffic for long periods — and thinking about God and GPS. The message was suddenly loud and clear.  SLOW DOWN.  BE STILL. And I kid you not, I heard the song  Still, by Hillary Scott.  Its words hit the nail on the head:

I believe that You are God alone
But sometimes I still try to take control
Cause I get scared when I can’t see the end
And all You want from me is to let go

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still

I just need to be still.  God has it all under control.

Tonight the Bible opened to Luke:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built.  But the one who listens and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”

Luke  6:46-49

Lord,

You have my attention.  I am listening.  All of todays devices and media and GPS’s cannot show me the path that you have set for me.  Help me to listen and to act upon your words.  You are my GPS.  You know where I am and where I am going.  You know how to get me there.  Help me to follow.  Help me to turn off all of the distractions.  Help me to be still, to slow down, to see what you are doing.  Thank you for slowing me down today and keeping me safe.