Starting with Small Steps in the Right Direction

We don’t like to be pushed around or led where we don’t want to go. When we are, we get upset.

Our God doesn’t push. He sort of nudges us in a certain direction. Lent is a time for us to feel the “nudge” of God. It is God’s way of urging us in a new direction.

The Lenten season provides opportunities to reflect more carefully on where we are heading.

God’s “nudge” simply says: “Stop resisting and start listening.”

When we do, our Lenten season can help us grow wiser and stronger.

During Lent, we often hear these words of St. Francis de Sales:

“God takes pleasure in seeing us make little steps and, like a good father holding his child’s hand, He will conform His steps to ours, quite happy not to go any faster than we can walk.”

When we follow His lead, we do grow wiser and stronger.

A Reading from Romans 15:7-10

Welcome one another, therefore just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.


Only Jesus has the Words for my Eternal Life

Television programming has a fantasy drama called Resurrection.  It takes place in a make believe town where deceased loved ones come back to life and return to their families.   It has generated lots of chatter about afterlife and “what happens after we die?”

Of course raising up those who have died isn’t a new phenomenon.  When Jesus walked among us, he raised up three people: the young daughter of Jairus; the grieving widow’s only son and, his friend, Lazarus, after being dead for four days.

Jesus did it without fanfare-no cameras, TV lights or Twitter.  And his reward for giving life to these people was that the Pharisees and the Publicans wanted him killed.  It did not enjoy the notoriety and good press that this modern day television program is enjoying.

Right before raising Lazarus from his death, Jesus had this discussion with Martha.  Martha said to Jesus “if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Jesus replied with these great words “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

And Martha uttered the words Jesus wants to hear from all his followers. “Yes, Lord I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” (John 11: 1-45).

Our lives and all we do in our lives come down to the answer to Jesus’ question “Do you believe this?”   But it is not simply with a one time “Yes,” rather we answer with a lifetime “Yes” over and over again.

Recently a deaf 16-year old teenager, Jason, with an ear implant told me his story.  Now this Jason looked like any other high schooler I met.  Jason was tall, eager, handsome, except for his halting speech because of the implant.

Jason with an occasional captivating smile proceeded to relate his life and his struggles of being a hearing impaired teenager.  His struggles to fit in with his peers, his inner longings to be “like everybody else,” But Jason also had gifts he wanted to share too.  He was an honor student; a good athlete and he loved life.  And Jason loved God.

Jason did not blame God.  He thanked God for who he was and where he was right now. “I thank God for loving me.”   Because he added “It’s not easy being a teenager.”

I can hear Jesus whispering to Jason “In your life Jason I am your resurrection and your life; if you believe this you shall never die. Do you believe this?”  And Jason through his struggles, pain, and desires “to be normal” courageously responds “Yes Lord I believe” And Jason simply moves forward.

That’s the faith that Jesus comes looking for in all of us.  Jesus wants to be our resurrection (our life and hope) in all our days and through all our challenges.

Jason does it through his present moments of his everyday.  Jesus looks for that same utterance from our everyday living too.  “Do you believe this?”  Jesus is always asking.

Despite our doubts, despite our days of darkness and pain, we always know Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.  And when we acknowledge this from our present moments, no matter what we find in them, we already have eternal life.

Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday isn’t about coming back and living again in our hometowns like the TV drama portrays.  Rather Jesus’ death and resurrection frees us to live in eternity.  “If we believe in Him we will never die.”

So as we begin our day and face our struggles, and challenges, our dreams and disappointments how do we respond to Jesus’ question–“Do you believe this?”

Jesus waits to hear the same  “yes” of Martha and Jason.   For when he does, he knows that our eternal life has also begun.


Time to Move On

“We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear for tomorrow.” Fulton Oursler, the famous author of The Greatest Story Ever Told, penned these words.

I have to admit, Mr. Oursler has hit upon a most important insight. Often, individuals do feel stuck on their journey. They are not happy where they are. They don’t want to change. They seem content to say: “Life has no meaning for me.”

With a little probing,

we find out that this lack of movement is about some unresolved past fear, a vision they had of themselves that didn’t happen, or just plain wasted years. Yet, they won’t risk changing the situation because they don’t know the outcome. They are crucified between the two thieves that rob them of life: Regret for yesterday and fear for tomorrow.

Lent is a time of personal change. It is a season for soul searching and to turn away from

hurtfulness and turn toward helpfulness. From any indecision, disciples need to hear Christ’s word of deliverance: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” No better words can release us from our self-made crucifixions. De Sales reaffirms this when he writes:

“We must not yield to
discouragement … but very gently put our hearts back into the hands of the Lord… renewing our resolution.”

A Reading from Psalms 95:8

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts;


Fasting is Here to Stay

My nephew Joseph once asked me, “When I get older, am I still supposed to fast?” I said, “Yes.” Then he looked at me quizzically and said, “What is it?”

This is surely a question many people Joe’s age ponder. Is fasting in or out? We still fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, it isn’t simply counting how many sandwiches we eat that day, or how many cups of coffee are too much.

Fasting reminds us that our empty spaces are to be filled with the “bridegroom who is coming,” Jesus the Lord.

During our Lenten Journey, we do fast. We fast so that something within us changes. During Lent we restrain our own opinions and listen more to what others think and say. We let go of our long held hurts and instead show more forgiveness. We curb our impatience and practice understanding and listening. We relinquish our fears of the future and rely more on the hope of God’s eternal presence.

Fasting is here to stay, but it is done to help us grow and change from within. Francis de Sales agrees that change is first and foremost interior. After a slow and dramatic change, does the exterior show new life? Francis writes:

“For myself… I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin on the inside.”

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 5:15-16

You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house.


Quality Time

Do you enjoy quality time? This is the name we give to moments spent enjoying the company of family and friends.

Do you treasure quality time above all other kinds of time?

How often do we get caught up in “doing” that we forget to relax in high quality company?

Maybe we need to reset our schedule to include getting in touch with an old friend, a distant family member, or find time to listen to our children, hold our spouse’s hand.

Quality time can even mean taking some time for prayer—not just the worship or asking kind, but simply relaxing in God’s Presence, and saying not a single word. St. Francis de Sales encourages quality time when he writes: “We must neither ask for anything nor refuse anything, but leave ourselves in the arms of Divine Providence, without busying ourselves with any desires, except what God wills of us.”

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 1:35

In the morning, while it was still very dark, He got up and went out to a desert place and there He prayed.


Jesus’ Leaven brings out the best in us!

Jesus warns us to “Watch out and guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” In Mark 8:13, Jesus wants us to be wary of all “brands” of  leaven, but His.

Why?  Because the  Pharisee’s and Herod’s leaven is all fluff and no “stuff.”  It looks good and others admire its sheen, but it changes little on the inside.  We may look good on the outside, but it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do in the places needed.

It doesn’t cause our hearts to flow with love for others. It doesn’t turn bad  habits into needed virtues or give our life that added tang that declares to all “Jesus dwells here. “  No indeed! The Pharisees’ leaven is insipid and bland adding neither freshness nor savour to any and all lives.

The flavour we need to mix into our lives comes only from Jesus, the leaven that  increases our desire to aid a neighbour in trouble, and that stirs us to reach out and give food to a hungry brother and sister.  And Jesus’ leaven works instantly. It allows our hearts to see plainly the needs of our fellow pilgrims walking with us on our common pilgrimage to the Father.

This leaven unlocks our ears to hear  Jesus’ words of hope, promise and mercy coming from the Father. Jesus’ leaven doesn’t want simple obedience to the law, but also an understanding of its beauty. It motivates us to live the law with gratitude to the Father forgiving us so much on a daily basis. This leaven is not magical, but simply mystical giving us a pre-taste of God’s glory  and compelling us to share it.

Think about it. If we want to deepen our relationship with Jesus, use only His leaven, because as it rises we become like Him, and better yet act like Him to all around us.


An Easy Exam

Some people see September simply as the time for school to be in session once again. Beach balls are put away and book bags retrieved. It’s a time for classroom, learning, and that ill-fated word: examinations! In this spirit, I have an easy exam for you. Are you ready?

Question: You are at a party. You have just finished a very difficult Mozart piano concerto. The applause is deafening. Someone shouts: “Magnificent. The best I’ve ever heard!” What is your humble response to all this? Please pick one of the following:

A. “I guess my fingers were very relaxed today.”

B. “My piano teacher had a lot of patience.”

C. “You can’t mess up a great composer like Mozart.”

D. “Thank you very much.”

If you picked “d” then you selected the humble response. Humility is about speaking the truth about ourselves. Humility is not about denying the talent like answer “a” or “b,” but the courage to accept the truth about ourselves whether others do or not. Humility sits square in the middle between pride: “I am the greatest ever,” and self pity: “I’m the worst that ever was.”

It’s okay for people to admire our quilting, our accounting skills, or even our ability to be organized. This is who we are and from this God’s image within us is


St. Francis de Sales says:

“Nothing can humble us before the mercy of God as the multitude of His blessings and nothing can humble us before the justice of God as the multitude of our misdeeds.”

Francis reminds us that a good balance is to see the detail of our sinfulness and the detail of God’s graces. In this way, we are humble, for in recognizing both, we become grateful to God.

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 13:30

For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.


Everybody Smile, Please!

Go search for your smile,” she yelled to her husband as he left for a week-long fishing trip with his friends.

Jim had become too involved with his work. He had to do everything. He didn’t trust anybody else to help. He had to do it all! At home, he was no fun. He had forgotten how to laugh or enjoy his family. He was just too serious. Jim had lost his smile.

As humid summer days fade into cooler autumn breezes, I hope we have searched and found our smiles. We, too, get easily wrapped

up in our job, our ideas, and our way of doing something.

Often we think that we alone can make something succeed. If we didn’t, all would fail. This feeling basically says: “Trust no one else, do it yourself!”

As people of faith, we believe that whatever we do pleases God, as long as we give it our best effort and turn the rest over to God. God makes up the difference. When we do this, we can relax and even smile. This is a fine formula for healthy, Christian living.

Francis de Sales never wanted his followers to get so involved that they lost their smile. He wrote:

“If an action or decision doesn’t seem good and it looks as if you made a mistake, you should in no way blame yourself, but rather humble yourself and laugh at yourself.”

I think this is good advice, don’t you? It’s just another way of saying: “Do what you are able and then search for your smile.”


Fighting the FEBS

Have you ever heard of the “Febs”? This is how a friend of mine describes the month of February. He sees February as a gloomy month.

Winter is at its height. Arctic winds and temperatures bite our faces. Snow piles in the streets. Our mornings are long in darkness. We wish spring would get here and wipe it all away. These feelings my friend calls the “Febs.”

On life’s journey we also have momentary feelings called the Febs. We feel isolated by our pains and hurts. We are encircled by stormy decisions and others’ coldness. We trample over roads blocked by snows of opposition and the darkness of misunderstanding. These times can be labeled our personal “February,” and the experiences, the Febs. However, just as spring replaces February, the Good News of Jesus’ presence helps us through life’s Febs. Jesus promises to be always with us even “until the end of time.” These are consoling words, especially when we are in our darkest and coldest moments.

It is the warmth and the light of Jesus which gets us through. And Jesus does “get us through.” Jesus doesn’t want harm to befall us. Yet when it does, He envelops us with the care of His words and the concern of His compassion. Jesus is the cure for our personal Febs.

St. Francis de Sale didn’t talk about the Febs, but knew the idea! When we feel we have the Febs, he recommends this: ”Do not be afraid! Jesus who gives you the desire to do good will help you do it.”

A Reading from Romans 1:17

“The Good News tells us how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, “The people whom God accepts because of their faith will live.” 


A Welcoming Pope

Pope Francis never seems to stop finding ways to be welcoming.  He chooses to see the beauty in individuals rather than their stains and blemishes.  He understands that human needs may sometimes be more important than perceptions of what is proper.  Recently Pope Francis gently spoke these words “Let them eat: no worries.”   He was speaking to Mothers who had presented their children for Baptism in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.  The Pope was referring to the hunger the children may feel during the long ceremony.  He wanted the mothers to feel free to breastfeed rather than be embarrassed or squeamish.

It is these small human tones that give Pope Francis so much appeal.  He spots the human dimension in the midst of the sacred.  With his keen insights, he shows us how our acknowledging a necessary fact of human everyday life is just that-acknowledging it.  In this situation “babies get hungry” even when being baptized. Pope Francis simply wanted the mothers not to hold back and to go ahead and breastfeed them.  It’s just a beautiful reality in a modern world.

Pope Francis has the keen insight to see a human moment, make a pastoral decision and win hearts.  The result is that those involved may love Jesus more deeply, because they love the Jesus they see in Pope Francis.  This same experience happened to Jesus in the Scriptures and it continues to happen still today.

Many people liked Jesus before they decided to be like Christ.   The Samaritan woman sitting at the well liked Jesus first, and then became his disciple telling everyone she met about him.   Probably Mary Magdalene did the same.

Pope Francis understands this, and makes welcoming and comforting primary qualities of his ministry.  The Pope does it because Christ did it.  This sterling behavior is worthwhile learning from Pope Francis.

First be welcoming and inviting.  Then give everyone respect no matter who they are.  Finally show honor and dignity before and instead of pointing out differences.  Who Knows?  We may even discover we like them, and before long they may like the Christ they see in our actions.

It’s a novel approach, but Christ founded a church on this crazy idea.  Today we have many opportunities to fill our churches by being welcoming and friendly before anything else.  It worked for Jesus, it works for Pope Francis, and it can work for us too.   So be like Pope Francis “let them eat; no worries.”