Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I am Barabbas

Picture this. You have committed some horrible crime. You are captured and sentenced to cruel and painful death. You sit in your cell in chains, awaiting your time to die. Then a guard comes up to you and releases your chains. Someone you don't know volunteered to take your place. He isn't guilty of anything; He just doesn't want to see you suffer.

COOL DUDE, am I right? 

This story sounds a bit familiar....

Remember Barabbas? Bad man, criminal, and flat-out THUG?

Flashback to the Trial Before Pilate (John 18-19; Mark 15). Jesus is standing before a mocking crowd, awaiting His sentence. Beside Him is this murderer, a leader of a rebellion named Barabbas. He faces crucifixion just like Jesus. But unlike Jesus, he is a rightful prisoner.

Now because it's Passover, a Jewish Holy Day, Pilate is expected to release a prisoner. So he calls out to the crowd, "Who do you want?" He asks them, "Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"

"Not this one but Barabbas!" they scream in response.

"And what shall we do with this one?" Pilate asks.

"Crucify Him."

Barabbas, the murderer, walks free. Jesus, the Savior, is tortured and crucified. 

It doesn't seem fair, right? I don't know about you, but my initial reaction is anger. How dare Barabbas walk free. That's not right. If anyone had to die, it should have been him. HE was the murderer. He was the criminal. He sinned. What did Jesus ever do wrong?

But dear readers, let me share with you something that blew my mind. (All credit to Mark Hart on this one).

The name Barabbas...Let's break it apart. "Bar" means "son of." And "Abbas" refers to God. So Barabbas literally means son of God. Barabbas isn't just some random thug. He is a son of God.....Just like us. 

That's right. Barabbas represents the human race, the children of God.

I AM BARABBAS.

I am a sinner. I am the thug. If anyone deserved to die on a cross, it would be me NOT Jesus. 

Thankfully, God isn't as quick to judge as we are. He doesn't look at Barabbas (us) and say "Hmm my Son is perfect and you are a nasty criminal, so here's a death sentence." 

The thing is, we deserve the punishment, but God's not going to let that happen. He loves us too much to let us take that punishment, so He takes His very own Son, perfect and holy, and offers Him up. 

Jesus takes our place on that cross. The man who least deserves to endure such suffering volunteers to step up for us. He says nothing as Barabbas' name is shouted from the crowds. He does nothing as He is crucified. 

"The real miracle in the Passion is that there was no miracle." Jesus could have jumped off that cross and wiped out everyone within sight. He could have healed Himself and gone on living a great life. But instead, He accepted the Father's cup and drank the grave so that we would never have to, so that we could have a Savior who understood every form of suffering we could endure.

I am Barabbas. We all are. We don't deserve this life. We don't deserve a Savior like Jesus, a Savior who is willing to step in front of the bullet for us. But because we are the "sons of God," because of Jesus' passionate love for us, He takes that bullet. He accepts the pain, the suffering, and rejection we toss in His face.

God knows we are sinners, but He knows that, as His children, we possess inherent worth. He WANTS us to go free. Even if we keep on sinning, even if we never even thank Him for the sacrifice, He wants us free. THIS is the beauty of grace: we are flawed human beings. We mess up time and time again. We spit on God. We mock Him. We break all of His commandments. We ignore His love....AND STILL, He loves us. STILL He wants our happiness so much that He is willing to endure a horrible death so we don't have to.  

This reminds me of a verse from an amazing song, "Dead Come Alive" (featuring the best rap I have ever heard):

This enemy is too much for me 
And this flesh and world is triple teaming me
It seems to be the very end
I scream "PLEASE OH PLEASE PASS THIS CUP FROM ME."

But the thing is, it DID pass.
And it passes EVERY DAY.
He took my cup from me and gracefully drank the grave.

Take a moment and realize the significance of God's sacrifice. You are Barabbas, and you walk up to that cross and see Jesus hanging there in agony. It's the cross you were supposed to be nailed to. And there, instead, is an innocent man. 

Each time you gaze upon a Crucifix, I pray that you remember this. Remember that we were the ones intended for that cross. The King of this entire universe, "I am" Himself, suffered that so we could walk away unscathed. 

If that's not love I don't know what is.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Welcome Him in

We all have at least one person that is a celebrity in our eyes. If they walked up to us and asked for a place to stay for a bit, we would be completely starstruck. Once we regained our composure, we would of course invite them in, sit them down, and give them anything they asked for. VIP treatment, a feast, countless accommodations...

Take a second and think, right now, of this star in your life. Some actor, musician, author, inspiring person, saint, etc.

Got it?

To avoid the nuisance of saying he/she and his/her repeatedly, let's say this person is a man.

Okay, so imagine he actually did knock on your door tomorrow. You would probably give him star treatment, correct?  Well imagine that you shut the door in his face. In fact, you SLAMMED it. Or you let him in but then proceeded to mock him, beat him, and kill him.

Harsh, right? Why on earth would you do this?

Well the problem is that we ARE on earth. Earth is sinful, full of humans with more freedom than we know what to do with. Enough freedom to make us to horrible things. Enough freedom to make us blind to the greatest Gift ever.

I hope you see where I'm going with this. Jesus is that celebrity. When He arrived on this earth, we should have welcomed Him like the King He is. We should have opened our front doors wide without hesitation and offered Him the most comfortable bed in the house.

Instead, when He arrived on this earth, we closed every inn door on Him. We made Him, our humble yet Almighty King, sleep in a manger.

I say we because it was us. We closed the door. We closed our hearts. We, united as one through our humanity, mocked Him. We spat on Him, beat Him, and drove three nails through His body. And then we hung Him up to die.

Can you believe how blind we were? We had the priceless opportunity to see our God, our Creator, humble Himself and join us through human suffering. Our King took the same form as us. He became human for us. He walked the same earth, ate as we eat, and died as we die.

How humble of the Lord to take this abuse. He went from angels and thrones in heaven to verbal and physical abuse on earth.

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed (Matthew 16:1-28).

Ask us who is dominating the box offices and we can tell you. Ask us who the most popular celebrity is and we know. But ask us to point to our much-anticipated Savior right before our very eyes and we wouldn't have a clue.

We know the signs that indicate a storm is near. But we are completely oblivious to the signs that indicate Christ's presence right before us, both in the flesh when He walked this earth and now in Spirit, as He dwells within all we meet.

God's knocking on our doors each day. Next time we hear Him, let us not shut the door in His face. This time, let's give Him the King's welcome He deserves.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Name and Claim It

A little over a month ago, I hurt my wrist exercising. I was training for a very important fitness test. I had to crank out those push-ups. It was do or die. So when my wrist started hurting, I ignored it. It was inconvenient. Why let it stop me from accomplishing my goal?

I kept working out. It kept hurting. Soon, I had no choice but to acknowledge it. The pain a "little sprain" was causing me was too much to ignore. And now here I am, more than a month later and worse off than when I started. I have to wrap my wrist for practice as it practically cuts off my circulation. That's no fun. I have to do "wrist strengthening exercises," (who has time for that?), and, worst of all, I can't practice playing the ukulele anymore. Yes, that's right. My current joy in life has been taken from me.

Funny, isn't it, that I ignored the sprain so I could get better at push-ups, and now as a result, I am unable to do even a single one.

So, my wrist isn't that big of a deal. It's inconvenient. That's it. However, sin...sin IS a big deal. And really, sin's a lot like a little wrist sprain.

It usually starts off small. We mess up once or twice, and as a result, we feel sore a bit. But then we ignore it. It's just a little sin.  Maybe we do so because we think it's too small, too unimportant. Maybe we think that it won't get in the way of our quest toward Heaven. What's one little sin in the grand scheme of things? We've got work to do. We can't stop and spend forever fixing one silly flaw.

This approach causes the situation to snowball. We sin a bit more, and this time, the effects hit us harder. A little soreness eventually escalates into sharp, shooting pain. This pain is so severe that often we are confronted with the realization that we have no choice but to acknowledge it.

That's when we've got to come to God, our "doctor" or "trainer." He sits us down and asks us to identify the problem. Then He gives us a plan to fix it.

But the thing is, we've let the sin grow so much by now that it won't be easy to remove. What could have been a quick fix at the start of the issue is now a lengthy process. The sin, and its resulting pain, has been ingrained in us by now. It is tattooed upon us, and it's no easy process to rid ourselves of its mark. It is robbing us of our joy in life. We can't enjoy whatever our "ukulele" is in life because we've let it get this far. We can't be happy because this sin has taken over our very being.

But luckily for us, God gives us a chance to come clean, to start over.

Reconciliation. Our God is a God of mercy. He forgives us, but we must reach the point where we want this forgiveness.We must be ready to forgive ourselves. And, most difficult of all, we must be willing to become vulnerable, to admit that we messed up, and to bear our sins.

This vulnerability is difficult. Who likes admitting we've messed up? But it's necessary. It's necessary to stop the cycle, the cycle in which we sin and ignore it and ignore it and ignore it until it is all we can think about. Until it gets to the point that the sin is too great and the pain too sharp to ignore.

No one wants to reach this point. Trust me.

Unfortunately, however, many of us will. And when we do, it's up to us to dig deep and bring our sins to the table. We've got to name and claim them if we want them to go away. Ignore them, and we end up chained to them.

Connections made in string are much easier to break than connections made of chain.

So, whatever the sin--big or small, new-found or years in the making--I encourage you to name and claim it and to stop it at its roots before these roots become too big to remove.Though you may need to dig deep and risk opening yourself up to God, I have no doubt that this is the only way to get better. This is the only way to find the strength to pick yourself up and start climbing toward the goal again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why Not?

If I had read this blog over a year ago, I would have laughed at myself, even mocked myself. I had this image in my head of those teens who tweeted Bible verses and listened to Christian music. They spent their Friday nights reading the Bible. They avoided secular music like the plague. And they condemned to hell anyone who passed by them with shorts less than an inch above their knees. Suffice it to say, I was not interested.

It's crazy to think of myself this time last year, right before I really started delving into my faith. My reputation was most likely defined by my crazy personality, dachshund racing obsession, excessive nose-blowing during allergy season, and talent show rap performances. The most religious thing about me was probably just my name.

Going through the motions. That's how I like to describe my attitude toward faith for those 16 years.

Half of my high school career and all of my LIFE was spent half-heartedly engaging in my faith. But then, my image of a Christian teen starting shifting, and I started becoming the person I had secretly laughed at. I definitely did not have it all figured out, and I still don't! But I've at least been trying. That's the difference. Trying. 

Before, I didn't feel the need to put into anything into my faith. I wasn't trying to grow closer to God. I may have wanted it, but I wasn't dedicated to actually establishing this relationship.

Like I said, I'm only beginning down this path, but even just one year into taking my faith seriously, I can see the difference. I can see that the path I was on before was not the right path. Sure, I could have walked that route my entire life and still been successful and happy, but it still was not the right path. And it's not the right path for anyone.

That path, the path of ignorance toward God, can make you happy and give you money and more...but it cannot make you joyful--truly, consistently filled with happiness despite the circumstances--and it cannot give you true peace and true satisfaction.

That close bond with Christ gives you a moral compass and keeps you grounded. Assuming you're keeping your eyes on Him, you don't get caught up in the trivial things in life. Sure, you'll slip up, but there's always the opportunity to keep on trying.

Now, I'm not condemning those who aren't into their faith. I'm just saying, why not? Why not go for it? Yeah, your reputation could take on a whole new meaning in a matter of months. And yeah, some people might label you a Jesus freak. It comes with the territory. You get over it. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is how you treat the Big Guy. That is what affects your "success" in/after life, and that's what is going to shine through you if you play your cards right.

The young people who inspire me in my faith are often the nicest people I've met. And I know why. They learn from the best. They learn their kindness and their love from the One who invented these concepts. And yes, you can give my countless examples of joyless and mean Christians. In my opinion, if they're joyless and mean....they're not doing it right.

Pope Francis gets where I'm coming from. In June, he tweeted, "A Christian is never bored or sad.  Rather, the one who loves Christ is full of joy and radiates joy."

Knowing Jesus has given me the most fulfilling joy and the most certain peace of my life. Nothing has ever felt more right than having this relationship. If I had heard those last two sentences years ago, I would've rolled my eyes, branded the author a weird Jesus freak, and moved on to something more "interesting." But hear me out! I'm not crazy. I am a (semi-) normal teenager. I've seen both sides of the scenario. And I can tell you that the glass of your life is half full when you start valuing your relationship with God. It'll take effort and time to make God a core part of your life, don't get me wrong, but I promise you, without a doubt, that you will be rewarded for your efforts, for having the nerve to try. 

So the thing is...there's really no down side to trying the whole "Jesus thing" out. You may miss out on a few wild experiences, but just trust me on this one: the peace and joy you'll feel is a billion times more satisfying than any fleeting high that presents itself as "happiness." Why would you not put effort into establishing this relationship? Why would you miss out on the opportunity to become the kindest, happiest, and holiest version of yourself? Why would you not want to have a bond with the only One who really knows you and still really loves you? I asked these questions a while ago, and I've found the answer. I have come to the conclusion that there is no good reason NOT to give it a shot.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Take a chance and trust me on this. There are better things ahead on your journey, so please do not miss your ride.


Feel free to comment below or message me on Facebook or Twitter if you have questions/comments/concerns/random facts you'd like to share. You rock. Thanks for reading!

Alive Within Us

The other day, I made my first visit to the chapel this new school year. This chapel is heaven on earth, tucked away feet from the classrooms that cause me anxiety yet filled with complete tranquility. The moment the door shuts, I am overcome with a sense of comfort.

Already stressed out, I did not hesitate to get down to business. As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, I noticed something surreal. 

A crucifix I wear on a long chain under my shirt was sticking out in between the buttons on my uniform button-down. I looked down and noticed it, face up, Christ staring at me. And then a peculiar thing happened. It started moving, beating. It freaked me out at first, until I stopped to listen. And then I heard it. 

Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. 

The crucifix on my chest was moving along with my hearbeat, the "ba-dum" of my heart in perfect synchrony with its movements. What a gift from God. I'm sure I'll continue to find even more significance in this experience, but my first reaction was that God wished to remind me of His presence.  As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, Christ was practically screaming at me (in the reverent silence) that He was present, that He was alive, and is alive.

Christ is alive. Sometimes it takes a Crucifix beating along with your heart to be reminded of this fact. But it's true. Christ is alive. He is alive in the Church, in the Eucharist, in the Sacraments, and in us. 

That's right. Christ is alive everywhere we look, especially within our own very hearts. It may seem obvious, but it's actually quite remarkable. He's not just a voice in our head. He's not just the star-filled sky. He is within us. His heart beats in synchrony with ours because He is united to our hearts in a deep and intimate connection.

  The blood that pumps through our veins is the same blood He spilled for our sake.

Think about it. No one has ever loved you as much as Christ does. His love is incomparable. So deeply does He care for us, that He has blessed us with His eternal presence. He is with us until the end of time. In the stars of the sky. In the Word of God we read. In the Sacraments we celebrate. And within us, each and every one of us.

We must be reminded of this fact if we wish to treat others and ourselves properly. Loving Christ can be as simple as loving your neighbor because Christ lives in that person and Christ is reflected by that love. His presence lives on in this mutual exchange of love.

And just as Jesus is alive today, He was alive thousands of years ago. He's not a fictional character. He's not a legend, or merely a distant figure in a history. He is human. He walked, He talked, He grew up, laughed, cried, you name it. He walked this very same earth and experienced this very same joy and suffering. He is united to us through the human experience. He is united to us through a love so strong that He died for us.

He's not just a tiny metal man on a tiny metal cross. When He was crucified, He felt everything that we feel. He suffered as much, even more, than we suffer. 

He had a beating heart. And one day, it stopped beating. He's just like us, except for one thing. His heart may have stopped beating out of His own physical body, but now it beats through us. Now we are His body, and He is our heart. Jesus lives through us, His followers. 

So let us not forget that every minute we have been blessed with a beating heart, we owe to God. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. Let's repay Him for His love, His sacrifice, and the gift of His presence by dedicating each heartbeat, each fragment of our day, to Jesus Christ. And let us never forget, that God is alive within our hearts, loving us with an incomparable, indescribable, and intimate love: a love that is real; a love that is undeniable; a love that would endure death to save you.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are We Listening?

A few months ago, I used to make a habit of grabbing a blanket and cuddling up on the ground outside under the stars. This was my "me time" and my God time, often one of the only slivers of peace I could find in a stressful day.

It was beneath the stars one night that I had the crazy idea to start a blog. God made the sky. Look how glorious He is. How can I NOT share His greatness? I was in awe. The stars, up on "Heaven's Boulevard" were revealing His glory, fueling my new-found fire for Christ.

These stargazing sessions refocused my thoughts. They reminded me that my problems, however unconquerable they seemed, were in actuality, teeny tiny.

Look at these stars...God seemed to be telling me. I made them. I made this universe. And you are worried about that. 

I was reminded of the insignificance of my problems, and also of God's immense love for me. After all, He commanded each and every star in the sky, yet He still took time out of His busy day to have a conversation with me whenever I needed it.

But soon I got into the mindset that I didn't need it. How could I possibly find time to stargaze when I was up so late anyway? Test, quizzes, homework, relationships, phones, computers, sports, having fun, playing around....That began to become the priority. I was "too busy" for stargazing.

The end of these reflection sessions with God was just the beginning of a long list of ways I turned from God in the face of stress or trial. In retrospect, I can see myself becoming more and more jaded and bitter the less time I spent with Him.

And then I had the gall to ask HIM where He had gone. I failed to see that I had removed Him from my life. Maybe I was still a Catholic on the outside, but inside I was His rebellious teenage daughter going through a phase and looking for solace in all the wrong places.

I pulled away from Him and placed other forms of relief in front of prayer and communication with a God who wanted nothing more than to help me. Yet I was surprised that I felt distant from Him. I wanted a sign. I wanted proof that He was still there.

I had once sat beneath the stars and nearly cried of joy upon seeing a shooting star in the sky. Now here I was with no desire at all to step outside and try to talk to the empty sky.

Slowly, as I rebuild the relationship I tried to destroy, I've figured out what the issue was. I was hearing, but I wasn't listening.

I was going to Mass, talking the talk, but I wasn't believing it. Don't get me wrong, I still loved God and my faith, but I was holding a bit of a grudge, and doubting things that had once seemed like evident truths.

One of my favorite lines of a song reads, "I will tell you I love you, but the muffs on your ears will cater your fears."

I was living with muffs over my ears. I heard just fine, but the muffs blocked out my ability to LISTEN, to make sense of the jumbled "nonsense" I was hearing.

God was practically screaming at me, begging me to come back, to spend time with Him. He knew I needed it, and I knew in theory I needed it. Just like I knew in theory I was loved by Him. But when He had told me, "I have called you out by name and you are mine," I heard without listening. The words went in one ear and out the other, and I came not a step closer to finally getting it.

I began to get it the second I opened up, the second I agreed to letting God in and letting Him help me.

It's like waiting for a shooting star at night while you sit in the corner of your room alone. You can scream at God all you want, asking Him to send you something, anything, to show you He cares. You can wish for the days of shooting stars and tears of joy. But they won't return if you stay in that corner, yelling at God instead of listening. God can send you millions of shooting stars, but you can't see them because you never even bothered to leave your sad little corner.

He can prove to you He loves you, but you've got to remove those muffs from your ears. You've got to get up off the floor, grab your blankie, and head outside. Yes it may be cold and dark, but you've got to give God a chance. 

Only when you lie down and look up at the sky can God show you what you've been missing, what has been hidden from you by the confines of your ceiling.

Tonight, I sat outside to look at the stars, part of my attempt to refocus my life on this constant communication.

God, 50th post coming up next. What do you want me to write ab--- Before I could even finish, a bright shooting star flashed exactly where I was looking. And then, minutes later, another.

God knew I had missed those shooting stars, those reminders of His presence. He had probably sent me hundreds that past few months, but I never took the time to sit down and look up to see them. Wow. I thought, before I had connected the stars to my listening skills. Who knew so many shooting stars passed over us while we wasted time inside? I wish I had known to come outside more. I can't believe I've missed so many spectacular sights all this time...

And then it hit me, that I was missing out on God's presence because I never risked to put myself out there, to open myself up to Him.

God, I asked one last time. So what do you want me to write about?

My daughter, listen to these words....popped into my head. Then I waited, was God going to actually speak to me?! Give me words to relate like some prophetic vision. But then I realized....He already has. Listen to these words. That's all there is to it. God has given us words, proof, models of holiness. He's given us every tool we need to strive for sainthood. We've just got to pay attention to it all.

"Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:7-11).

If you don't hear God or feel God or believe that God loves you...don't blame God. He's calling every second. We are the ones with muffs constantly over our ears, unable to hear--truly hear--His beckoning.

Don't let God's words, God's witnesses, and God's love pass through your ears absentmindedly. Listen to what He has to say. Take that extra step toward Him and allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be present to Him. Then you'll finally hear and understand His voice. Then you will see the shooting stars He's been sending your way for so long.


Related Song: You're Beautiful by Phil Wickham

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Beauty of the Mass


"What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation."  St. Francis of Assisi

The other day, while at Mass, I noticed a girl about my age sitting in the pew in front of me. She was dressed like a normal teenager, but there was something different about her that drew my attention.

She was happy.

All throughout the Mass, she held her hands intertwined, clutching her heart as if it were on fire, smiling to herself as she spoke and prayed with the congregation. It was as if she was having a secret conversation with the Lord, her entire attention focused on the beauty of the Mass.

I did not even have to meet this girl to see her inner passion. I could tell by the way she approached the celebration of the Eucharist that she was devoted to her faith. I was truly inspired by the display of such joy.

Shouldn't we all share this passion, this uncontrollable joy? It seems as if more often than not, going to Mass is a chore. We know it helps us grow in holiness, but does it sometimes seem like old news? Something we've seen every week and therefore lose sincere interest in?

Reciting words can be boring. The same schedule every Sunday can get redundant. That is, until you stop and realize how amazing it truly is.

Think about it. Really think about it. Every time we go to Mass, we are united to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We hear words that Jesus Himself revealed and spoke to US. We spend a solid hour in the house of the Lord. We pray for those in need. We are reminded of our beliefs as Catholics. And most importantly, we receive the Eucharist.

The Eucharist. THE Body of Christ.

Maybe after receiving it so many times, we start to forget how significant this is.

Christ reminds us every time we celebrate the Eucharist that He died for us. He reminds us that despite any struggles we are facing, Jesus Christ is strong enough to conquer it as He conquered death. He shows us that we are worth it; we are worth a horrible death on a Cross.

Every time we take Christ's Body into our hands/mouths, we receive tangible proof of everything Christ has revealed to us. We come into direct contact with Him. How fortunate are we to be blessed with such a hands-on encounter with Christ, an encounter first established by Jesus Himself?

Yes, our minds will wander at times. But we must not forget the true beauty of the Mass. Going to Church should not be a burden, simply a requirement. God doesn't require it of us because He wants us to be falling asleep in His home. He requires it of us because He knows, if we approach it reverently, that the Mass will unite us to Christ and help us on our road to holiness. We should delight in the gift of this experience, taking pleasure in every opportunity we receive to grow closer to Christ through the Eucharist.

It is so easy to get distracted, to grow bored. Trust me, I know. However, we are called to try our best to remember each and every day the value of such a gift as the Eucharist.

"Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you - for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart...don't listen to the demon, laugh at him, and go without fear to receive the Jesus of peace and love."  St. Therese of Lisieux

I encourage you, whether you do so on the outside or privately, to smile in the presence of Christ at Mass. Smile at the opportunity you have to witness His love, to receive His Body, and to be reminded of His goodness. Remember that Mass isn't about going through the motions, but rather coming face-to-face with Jesus. This encounter with Christ is what will refresh your soul, encouraging you on your journey toward God each and every week. Jesus is in the tabernacle for you. Welcome Him into your heart with open arms and you will be surprised at the wonders He will perform.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let

I was reading an article from the Catholic News Service today reporting statistics on Pope Francis's twitter acount (@Pontifex). At the end of the article I read the following:

A word cloud shows the words used most often in the pope's tweets are "God," "Jesus," "lives," love," and "let."

I almost skimmed past it. But something caught my eye. God, Jesus, lives, love...all that seemed like typical "Pope tweet" material. But "let"...where did that come from? At first I dismissed it as just a common word, but then I really stopped to think about it.

No wonder the Pope tweets the word "let" so often. In the advice he shares via Twitter, it would make sense that he would urge us to "let." After all, don't we have free will?

Our life choices are OURS. God has a plan for each and every one of us, but we must LET Him guide us our lives if we wish to live according to His plan.

So much of our life and our relationship with God is about "letting." Letting go of the past. Letting go of sin. Letting God take control. Even just merely letting Him into your life to begin with.

If you want a relationship with God, you've got to open yourself up to it. God forces nothing upon you. 

He mercifully gives us all the choice: choose Him or turn away. Holiness or sinfulness. If we want to grow close to Him, we must let Him work in our lives.

It's easy to turn away. It's easy to say no to Him and live life according to our own standards. But that's not what's best for us. God knows it, and we should, too. 

God calls us to carry our Cross for Him. God calls us to answer His call, to hear His voice, to live a holy life. If we do so, He promises that one day our hard work will pay off. We will enter into a complete union with Him, into perfect love and happiness. But if we even want to take the first step down this road to perfect love, we've got to be able to let God have our lives.


By "let God have our lives," I mean fully and completely, without any hesitation or regrets. We need to approach God and hand Him everything that makes us who we are. All of it must be set down at His feet. We must give Him every part of us, and then we must trust Him and LET Him work. Then, right before our eyes, we will see Him take each part and rebuild it into His very own beautiful masterpiece.

So often we try to control our lives. We interfere with God's work. We'll give Him some of ourselves, but we have reservations. After all, it is quite difficult to hand over our entire lives to God and trust He'll see us through it. 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Don't worry about tomorrow. Sounds impossible, right? How could we not worry about our future? About college and majors and careers and families and money?! 

Easy. Trust God. Let Him work.

It is easy. I promise you, it is. The problem is that we complicate it. All the time. We take it upon ourselves to figure life out, to find our own happiness. But that's impossible. We can't do it alone. We can't map out our life according to our plan and our schedule and expect perfect results. We can't even make everything fit our standard of "perfect." Because we're not in control. God is. And right now, in my life and in your life, He's working. Or at least He is trying to. He is trying to show you the way, to reveal to you how He is calling. 

If only we stopped trying to control our lives, then maybe we could see that there is really nothing to worry about as long as God's will is above all else. Then maybe we'll see that, all along, God was trying to lead us down His path, the path to true happiness and true love.

Right now, you may be tugging at a door, waiting for it to finally open so you can start down your planned-out and straight path to whatever your goal in life is. But stop tugging. God's knocking at another--perhaps completely unexpected--door somewhere else, but you're too preoccupied with that sealed door to hear Him.

I invite each of you to offer up your life to God. If you start to worry about the future, it won't be easy. But if you realize that God is holding your life, now and forever, in His hands, you will see there is no need to worry. God is trying to build a wonderful life for you, so why not let Him work?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Anything but Blind

St. Augustine once said, "Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe."

Is faith blind, then? If we believe in something we can't see, how do we know it's there?

Let me start by saying faith is anything but blind. Yes, we must follow a Lord who does not always visibly reveal Himself to us, but that doesn't mean we follow Him blindly. Not in the slightest. We do not follow Him blindly because there is so much more to faith than sight. We know He will not abandon us; He has told us this since the beginning of time. He has proven it to us time and time again. We have no plausible reason to doubt Him, to believe He is not present, caring for and loving us constantly. Even when we don't feel or see Him, we KNOW He loves us. We KNOW He is there. Deep in our hearts, we know we're not following Him blindly--and yet, we allow ourselves to be convinced otherwise.

I struggle with this often. Just because I don't see God at work in my life, I assume He is not there. My favorite band has a song called "Be Concerned," in which they address a similar feeling in regards to their relationship with God.

Where'd You go, huh?
They all think I know You.
It's so hard to motivate me
to devote a single inch of me
to something I can't see.

Why do we struggle with this devotion? Has God not proven His love to us? Did He not prove to us that He would be with us when He gave His life for our sake? 

I approach this situation from the completely wrong direction. God's not "something I can't see." I see Him every day. The problem is that I don't recognize Him. I don't see Him because He's not a burning bush or a figure in a vision.

The absence of God's visible presence does not mean we should give up. It does not mean we should stop believing. Imagine if we approached everything in our life with such wild accusations. Imagine if we claimed that air does not exist because we cannot see it. How irrational. Shouldn't the fact that we are breathing be enough to prove that air is present? Similarly, shouldn't everything around us prove to us that God is there? The breaths we take. The fact that we have woken up alive. The love we give and receive. The miracles of creation we witness each second. The list goes on and on. God is present. He is present in the burning bushes and barely audible whispers. He is everywhere we turn; we just choose to ignore Him.

Faith--true faith--means believing in God when we see Him, and believing in Him even more when we don't. It takes a faithful person to realize that God is still present even when He is imperceptible to the senses.

Only when we stop listening to our doubts will we notice the "reward of faith." Only then will we see the benefits of our faith and realize that God had never left us in the first place.We must believe God when He says, "I will be with you always" (Matthew 28:20). He's not lying. He has not left us. We may not see Him, but how could we possibly claim He is not there?

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Church of Today

God needs a YOU.
St. Therese of Lisieux, who knew God
was calling her to the religious life
at an early age.

Think about that. No matter how old or young you are, no matter how educated/qualified/religious/etc. you are....GOD NEEDS YOU. He needs you to proclaim His message, whether you are simply loving your neighbor or preaching from a pulpit. He needs you!

Youth especially: Do you ever feel like we are brushed aside and labelled "too inexperienced" or "too naive" to know anything? Even when people give us a chance, they sometimes do so only to prepare us for the future, when we will become the adults, the leaders, the decision makers. The "future" is our place, not the "now."

Well, guess what? We don't have to wait until we're all grown up to make a difference. This applies to everything we try to make a difference in, but especially the Church. 

We may not be saints today. But that doesn't mean we're not too young to try. Look at spiritual powerhouses like St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joan of Arc, THE VIRGIN MARY (who, by the way, is said to have had Jesus at the age of FOURTEEN)! They didn't let age stop them. They accomplished more in just a few years than many accomplish their entire lives. And when I say "accomplished," I'm not talking about wealth or power. I'm talking about the stuff that really counts: spreading Christ's joy, leading others to Christ, giving of themselves, service, etc. 

I am not the Church of tomorrow. I am the Church of today.

While at Notre Dame Vision this past week, a speaker told us to repeat these words. The power with which my peers and I stated these words amazed me. It was as if, at that moment, it had really hit us. Sainthood wasn't something to work toward eventually. It's something to be grasped at right now by ALL people, including even us!

St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire."

God is calling us to be His. He's calling us this very moment. The only thing stopping us is ourselves. Why do we place limits on our abilities? Why do we allow ourselves to sit on the sidelines as future saints like Therese and Joan of Arc and Mary pass us by? He has a plan for us, and if we follow this plan, we WILL set the world on fire. 

God needs a YOU...right now. Mother Teresa would tell those who gave up everything to join her work in Calcutta to leave. "Find you own Calcutta...you can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see." 

God is calling you to be a saint, but not a Mother Teresa, St. Therese, or St. Joan of Arc. Those spots have been filled. He's calling you somewhere else. So, by all means, use these powerhouses of devotion as models to strive toward, but at the same time, find your own Calcutta. Find your calling, be God's unique St. [insert your name here].

God needs you. He needs you right now. All of you. You're not too young. You're not too old. You're not too bad, too unholy, too anything! You are God's. So go be His this very moment, and you will set the world on fire.

Building Walls

We build walls around ourselves. It's part of being human. It's part of our fallen nature that we feel compelled to hide our imperfections from God. After all, what was the first thing Adam and Eve did when God called out to them after their disobedience? They hid.

You hide, too, don't you? Don't be ashamed. We all do it. I do it all the time.

You hide because you're afraid. You hide because you think God shouldn't see that part of you. You hide because the Devil has convinced you that God doesn't WANT to see that part of you, that you are unworthy of love, that God will not miss you.

Our hearts are easily buried behind walls that we construct out of the Devil's lies. You are not worthy of love. You are alone. Nobody cares. You aren't skinny enough. You aren't smart enough. You aren't athletic enough. You aren't GOOD enough.

We present a facade that we are okay when in reality, our true selves are buried beneath walls that trap us and make us believe we will never escape.

"And where is God?" we wonder. "Why has he buried me? Why has He forgotten me?"

The truth is, if anything, we have buried ourselves. We have hidden ourselves the moment we believe Satan's lies, the moment we accept that we are not enough, that God does not care for us, that God has cast us aside and labelled us as unworthy.

God is still there. God has not forgotten us. He is there pursuing us as we constantly block ourselves off from Him, and shut away our true selves. We ask ourselves why He has not freed us. "If He is all powerful, can't he help us?"

He can. But if we want Him to free us from the confines of these walls, we must free ourselves. We must believe Him when He says to us, "Fear not, for I have called you by name. You are mine...you are precious in my eyes and I love you." He actually says that. Look at Isaiah 43 if you don't believe it. He said it in the past, says it today, and will say it--to YOU--forever.

St. Augustine once said, "God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." This message of love is both universal and unique. God has called YOU by name. And we each have different names and different places in God's eternal heart. No matter what, He speaks these words to you. YOU are precious and He loves YOU, just as His Father loved Him (John 15:9).

You must believe these words when you hear them. You must constantly choose to remove your walls, to remove your weaknesses that keep you rooted in sin instead of rooted in Him. You may think you are secure behind your walls where nothing can hurt you but yourself. You may have accepted long ago that living behind walls was just the way life had to be, that you had to hide and present a mask, a facade, to God and to others. But the thing is that you must be willing to take the risk of opening up if you want God back in your life. You must stand up and tear down the walls that have been cemented into your mind through sin. You must tear down your false notions of beauty, worth, and love.

God has called you by name. You are precious to Him and HE LOVES YOU. He is calling you, but you can't answer, let alone HEAR him, because of your sound-proof, light-proof, walls.

He has not abandoned you. He is knocking on your door, but your walls are too thick for you to hear Him. So tear them down. Let your prayers penetrate these walls. They're getting through, even if you don't hear God's response through the walls. It won't be easy. You will need to put your blood, sweat, and tears into destroying them. And you will not emerge from the rubble without scars. But it will be worth it when you finally find the breath you've been searching for, the light you have been blind to, and the knock you have gone so long without hearing. After all, it was there all along.

If you're behind walls now, it's still there. This wonderful life God has in store is just outside your reach. God is waiting eagerly for the moment you decide to choose Him, the moment you decide to tear down your walls.

Belize Reflection: One Drop

(See post from 7/1 for background)

At one point on my mission trip to Belize, my school group and I traveled to Sacred Heart high school to meet with the Principal. She spoke to us about the economic difficulties families face in sending their children to high school. A high school education, similar to a college education in our society, is just about necessary to support a family. Without it, people are tempted to turn to prostitution and the drug trade to make it through. High schools try to accommodate families' economic situations, but they are already struggling to find funds and can only make tuition so low. Though they hate to do so, local high schools find themselves turning away students once their capacity is met. Even more students don't even have hope of this education if their families can find no way to afford it. Thousands of children in Belize find themselves thrust into the real world around the age of 12, expected to work to support their family though they lack many of the skills necessary to do so.

When I had first arrived in Belize, I subconsciously brushed aside the poverty I was seeing, trying to make it "okay" in my mind by noting that these people were genuinely happy with their lives. And they are...but that doesn't mean they refuse to wish for better circumstances.

Meeting with this Principal, hearing about the reality and struggles the youth in Belize face, made me feel insignificant. It made me feel helpless. What could I do? There are so many struggles, so many obstacles. These kids don't even have a fair shot at life; how can I eradicate poverty and save them all? What is the value of this trip if, when I leave, the same problems remain?

These questions haunted me all day; they were all I could think about. I couldn't help but picture an 8th grade girl I had grown particularly close to and ponder all the obstacles she would face on her path to a good life.

Why wasn't she--and all in a similar situation--given a fair chance in life? What could I do to help?

God answered these questions that night through the advice of an adult chaperon, who, when I voiced my feelings of helplessness, told me of a Mother Teresa quote:

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

This quotation changed the way I viewed my time in Belize, and the way I now view service as a whole.

What we are doing may just be a tiny drop in the ocean, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

I can't eradicate poverty. I can't give that 8th grader a perfect life. But I can equip her--and all in need--with the tools necessary to fight the good fight. I can give these tools financially, or I can give even more; I can give my time, my prayers, my words of wisdom, to help those in need succeed. It may not change their lives entirely. Perhaps it won't even produce any visible changes. But all that matters is that I am trying. I am helping to the best of my ability, in both big ways and small.

We can't solve all the world's problems, at least not single-handedly. But we can contribute our strength to the battle many of us face each day. We may think our contributions, our prayers, our advice, won't help. We may think, what's the point? What is one drop in a giant ocean? But to God, and to those in need, one drop is everything.

If everyone adopted that mindset and gave up because "one drop" was insignificant in a giant ocean, then the ocean would not exist. What is the ocean, after all, but a pool of millions and billions of tiny drops?

Our efforts, when evaluated alone, may seem insignificant. But when we combine our drops, when we combine our efforts, we can move mountains. We can fill oceans. We CAN change the world.

Striking a pose

Vocation

Vocation. Let's break that word down. It's not just about being called to religious life. A vocation means answering God's invitation, fulfilling the role that God is calling you to play in this world, no matter what this role entails. The interesting thing is, however, that your vocation isn't about you.

This past week, I attended Notre Dame Vision, a retreat-type experience on the University of Notre Dame's campus during which we focused on a variety of topics. One overlying theme of the week was vocation. This is where I first heard that our vocations are not about us. Yes, answering the call is a conversation, a conversation between YOU and GOD. But in the end, it's not about what you want. It's about what God wants.

Does this mean that God is asking us to give ourselves, and consequently our happiness, over to Him? Does this mean that He doesn't consider what makes us happy in life? NO!!

Our vocation is about what God wants....and what God wants is for us to be happy. When God calls us each (uniquely), it may at first seem like we're being led away from happiness, away from what we want. But in actuality, God is leading us to what He KNOWS will truly make us happy: doing His will. By dragging our feet and running the opposite way, we convince ourselves that His way is not our way, that His way will lead us away from true happiness.

When God calls us to follow Him, He cares about our needs, but He also cares about the needs of the world. I'd like you to share with you all a quote I stumbled upon on a friend's tshirt this past week. It has helped me rethink my own approach to discovering God's call for me:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes YOU come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." (Howard Thurman)

Notice how Thurman isn't saying, "Ask yourself what you want in life and go do that." And he is not saying, "Ask yourself what others want you do to in life and go do that." No, he specifically throws "come alive" into the mix. Because doing what you want or doing what others want you do is rarely the same as doing what makes you come alive. "Coming alive" is much deeper than the fleeting happiness that pursuing selfish desires brings. Coming alive requires passion, dedication, and commitment---commitment to more than one's own desires.

God is calling us to serve others and to serve Him. How can we do that? By finding passion in our work. This is how we can serve the world. We can devote whatever it is we do to God, whether that means proclaiming His Word or merely living as a Christian. We can come alive with Christ's love and SHARE IT, no matter how we do so. This is what the world needs.

Regardless of your vocation, you can share God's love. Whether you are a priest/nun/sister/brother, teacher, student, doctor, lawyer, waiter, garbageman, or [insert your profession here].....GOD CAN BECOME THE FOCAL POINT OF YOUR WORK. You can allow His light to shine through you to all you encounter, regardless of what it is you are called to do.

This is what will satisfy you. This is what will bring you happiness, not following your own selfish pursuits.

So, readers, if you have not yet discovered it, be attentive to God's call. And even if you feel you have answered the call already, look for ways God is asking you to dedicate yourself to Him even further. It may not come to you in a cloud of smoke or a burning bush. Listen for the whisper, and know, no matter what, that God is calling you to help others through your life. This--this giving of yourself--is what will allow you to bring Christ's joy to others, and to attain this joy in your very own life.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Belize Reflection: One Body

(See post from 7/1 for background)

The day before I left for Belize, I was having a discussion with someone about the Catholic Church. This person made a common argument: what's the point of religion with all of its rituals and rules; can't a relationship with God be a personal matter? There are many responses to this argument from a Catholic standpoint. I focused on the need for an established set of moral guidelines, in particular. The minute we remove "the rules" from our life, we give way to moral relativity and can easily be led astray by what our culture dictates as "moral" and "immoral."

Then this person brought up another point, mentioning that they did not understand why reciting a Creed was of any benefit. I didn't have an immediate response. Why are the rituals so important? Well, yes, they remind us of our past, a past founded on Jesus Christ Himself. Additionally, they remind us of our role as an active member of the Catholic Church. However, I did not see a clear-cut answer that I felt could really answer this person's question...until I stood in Sacred Heart Church in San Ignacio, Belize.

On the first Sunday of our trip, we ventured to this church for Mass with the community. As we recited familiar words and sang familiar songs, it hit me. I stood in the Church just thinking about that conversation and how crystal clear the answer now was to me.

These traditions and rules, though sometimes seemingly pointless, unite us to each and every member of the Body of  Christ. How unique. How amazing. I was entering a foreign land, surrounded by people I had never met and a way of life I was unfamiliar with, but in that Church, I felt at home. I felt linked to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in a unique way. I would've felt this even if they had said Mass in a whole different language. Because at the end of the day, we speak the same words Jesus once spoke. We recite our shared beliefs. We consume that very same Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We all are members of one universal Church, no matter where we are in the world.

Saying the words to the Creed alongside my Belizean brothers and sisters reminded me that as a member of Christ's Body, I serve not only my community, but my fellow humans throughout the world. Looking at it from an even broader perspective than the Catholic faith, as human beings formed by God's hands, we share common ground with and owe respect to each individual we encounter.

This is the power of God's love. He can unite us to one another deeply, regardless of the distance between us, our different cultures, our different languages, and more.

Amazing, isn't it, how two individuals can come from completely opposite walks of life, and still, they can stand side by side and find a deep connection through shared faith, through our common roots in Jesus Christ?

Sacred Heart Church

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mission Belize 2013

Earlier this month, I traveled with my high school to Belize for a mission trip. As Catholic missionaries, we prayed together in our community, taught Catechism to local students, completed various work projects at the school, and fostered relationships with the local community.

Cut off from the internet and our cell phones, we stayed at a former monastery, currently a retreat center in Santa Elena, Belize. There was no air conditioning, as is the norm in Belize, and as a result of the ceaseless heat and humidity, we learned to accept being constantly sweaty. There were many bugs/geckos, and the shower water was usually cold--a relief from the heat. It sounds quite different from American standards, but we were comfortable and happy. Everything was bearable and worth it when we took into consideration the countless blessings we witnessed each day.

The video below highlights some of the memorable moments I captured on tape:


Our typical schedule looked something like this:

6:30- Wake up

7:00- Morning Prayer (Lauds--Liturgy of the Hours)

7:30- Breakfast

8:30- Arrive at Bullet Tree Falls, the community in which Immaculate Conception school is located (about a fifteen minute drive from the monastery)

After that, we just went with the flow and I rarely looked at my watch.

Finished products
Picking oranges in the tropical depression rain
Work projects- building bike racks, cleaning and repainting exterior of buildings, building shelves, installing windows (more like shudders) and pouring cement to fill gap beneath them. I learned quite a few things about operating power tools, and felt quite accomplished when my group completed two wonderful bike racks.

Lunch in the community- The people of Bullet Tree did not have much; they lived in mainly cinder block homes with tin roofs. But they were willing to share, nonetheless. Rice & beans and chicken were the norm, and I ate more than my fill. Each family welcomed us with open arms and truly made us feel at home. I even got to pick oranges from our first host's orange tree.

Teaching- My travel companions and I prepared five lesson plans for our students, one for each day of the school week: The Body of Christ, God is Love/The Trinity, 2 Pillars of the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, and Our Call to Holiness. Developing these themes gave us a whole new appreciation for our teachers' hard work...

We each had a teaching partner with whom we taught two 30 minute classes: a young class and an older class. My partner and I taught Standard 2 and Standard 4, about the equivalent age of our 3rd and 6th grade here in America.
Playing outside
Battling for the Camera...













Play time- We often found ourselves playing with students during their breaks (2 before lunch and 2 after). They would tirelessly chase us around, tickle us, ask to be spun around, throw a ball with us, put us in "jail" (Kelly....), or attempt to teach us soccer. That wasn't too effective, as we faced an intense loss to the students in our USA vs Belize soccer match on Friday...We had fun, regardless. The children especially enjoyed playing with our cameras, and we all ended up with quite a collection of their unique photographs on our cameras when they got back to us.


3:30- Return to monastery/ free time possible before dinner

Dinner- Again, we often saw chicken and rice & beans. A lot of fresh fruit juice.

Evening Prayer/Group Reflection- Vespers. Small group and large group reflections. 

10:30- lights out

I'm probably missing a lot in the description above, but hopefully that gives you a general idea.

Other miscellaneous adventures included a trip to the Belize Zoo, visiting Mayan Ruins, seeing Jason Anthony (a popular American chalk artist and Christian inspirational speaker who was visiting with another missionary group), swimming in the Mopan River, and writing raps with my best friend Vivica, a "8th grader" at the school.

Jason Anthony, "the Chalk Guy"
Jaguar at the Belize Zoo













Stay tuned for upcoming posts in which I'll reflect on the life-changing realizations and experiences I encountered on this trip.

For day-to-day details of our amazing trip, visit: http://ursulinedallasmissionbelize.blogspot.com/.    

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wood and Fire

I am a piece of wood. God is a flame. God's heat touches me, and I feel as if I am on fire. Sometimes, it is a good burn. Sometimes, it is painful. But it is all part of a beautiful process.


I am heated by God's flame. His light changes me. It burns into my very core; it burns until there is nothing left to burn. I turn black; I turn to ash. After all, I am dust, and to dust I shall return. Christ strips me of my false sense of security, my belief that a plain old piece of wood is enough for me. He reminds me that I am nothing. I am dust. But He also reminds me that, with Him, I can be so much more than a simple piece of wood. Through His power alone, I endure the burn and I endure being reduced to ashes because at the end of the day, I am no longer a piece of wood. God has transformed me. 

First, I begin to glow from within. And then, the wood is gone and I am a flame. I radiate Christ. His flame consumes me, and I become one with it. God has rid me of my sinful state, the part of me that had resisted Him. Now I am a whole different being, united to the brightest Light. Christ's light is within me, shining on the world. Christ's light is me. I am the light of the world.
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I am the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Think about that for a second. I am a light for this entire earth. Wonderful, huh? But we must not forget where we get this light from. In John 8:12, Jesus calls himself the light.

I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.

So, yes, we are each lights of the world, but this light stems from Jesus Christ, the one true Light, the giver of light and love and life.

The metaphor referenced above is drawn from St. John of the Cross's The Dark Night of the Soul. It so accurately describes the union with Christ that we strive for. Observing Christ's light from afar is not enough for us. We must become this light.

Mediocrity is not acceptable to Christ. He doesn't want lukewarm followers...He wants followers who are flaming hot, on fire with His love. And sometimes, we must accept a complete remodeling to get to this point. We must be willing to be stripped of our imperfections.

If we want to join fully into union with Christ, we must be willing to let it all burn away: our material attachments, our worries, our imperfections and weaknesses. All of it must disintegrate. Only then, when we have let these impurities turn to ash, can we unite ourselves to Christ. 

The more of ourselves we allow God to consume, the more His fire will burn and grow. If we want to experience His presence in our lives, we must be willing to give up our lives as fuel to Christ's fire. And not only will we help ourselves grow closer to Him, but we will also allow those around us to see His love reflected in us and experience a similar conversion.

Christ has the power to transform us into vessels for His light. However, we first must be willing to drop our chains, our imperfections, and our weaknesses at His feet. 

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Up in the Clouds

"You don't have to find out you're dying to start living."



These words, spoken by the late Zach Sobiech, remind us that our lives will end, regardless of whether or not we know our expiration date. Zach was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, when he was 14. In December, his song "Clouds" went viral on YouTube. On May 3, he turned 18. And on Monday, May 20, he died.

When Zach was told that he had months to live, he turned to music to provide comfort to his friends and family--and even complete strangers. "It's more powerful than writing a letter because a song can get stuck in your head," he said. "Clouds" in particular reached across the globe, going viral and leading to a celebrity response video to show support.

Well I'll never get my chance. Be ready to live and it'll be ripped right out of my hands. How often do we take life for granted? How often do we wake up and go about our daily lives without realizing that the mere act of waking up is a blessing? Too often. We are not invincible. We will not live forever. Our lives will come to an end, no matter how often we brush away the idea of death.

And maybe someday I'll see you again. We'll float up in the clouds and we'll never see the end. Death is scary. It is scary because we don't like the unknown. But....is it really unknown? Zach's family, members of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, leaned upon their faith to get them through the periods of suffering and doubt. Zach went to morning Masses alone and even visited Lourdes, France, what he described as "possibly the most peaceful place" he had ever visited. This faith gave them the answer. Death is not unknown. Death is not the end. Death is just a transition to an even greater life. Zach, and all who have passed away, are not forgotten. They have been received into Heaven, into the clouds and into endless bliss.

We'll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer. We will each face suffering in our lives. But that doesn't mean suffering defines us. The trials of this world exist only to bring us closer to final unity with God after death. This is our ultimate goal. This is our ultimate purpose. The view will be exponentially  nicer from Heaven. This is our consolation during times of despair. Life can be difficult; but in the end, our happiness will far outweigh past suffering.

If only I had a little bit more time... If you are reading this, you are alive. If you are alive, it means you still have time. You still have time to live each day to the fullest. You still have time to spread God's light and love ceaselessly. You may not know that you have months to live. You may not have received a prognosis from a doctor. But no matter what, you are dying right now. You've been dying since the moment you were born, and what a wonderful fact this is. It means that each moment, you are closer....closer not to a dark and unknown end, but to eternal happiness in perfect union with God. Your time on earth is meant to prepare you for this union. So take Zach Sobiech's advice and start living.

Use your gifts to leave a lasting mark. Whether it be music, art, writing, or more, find your median and express the thoughts that matter, the thoughts that you don't want to regret bottling up when your time finally comes. These thoughts will be your legacy. These thoughts can change millioins of lives.

I invite each of you to take the time out of your day to watch this 22 minute documentary that highlights Zach's music, relationship with friends and family, and perspective on death. It has definitely changed my life, and I hope Zach's story can offer you similar consolation.

For more information regarding Zach's life, click here and here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Our Turn

Why did Jesus have to leave us? Why did He have to ascend into Heaven?

Let me start by saying that He only left us physically. In spirit He is with us, now and forever. And this spiritual connection is stronger than anything we could ever imagine, an unbreakable and personal bond.

Jesus, by leaving, united us to God through the Holy Spirit and forged a unique connection that far surpasses any physical interaction with the human Jesus. Christ is now able to live within the hearts of each and every human. He can be everywhere at once. He has overcome death. He has proven to us that He understand all suffering we experience--and that He is greater than this suffering. Christ has risen and has conquered the trials of earth. What a beacon of hope for humanity. What a clear example of what faith in God can do.

Additionally, Jesus left us because now it is our turn. The teacher is gone; it is our turn to teach the world. The symbol of perfect love is no longer in our midst; it is our turn to reflect His love. It is our time to take the knowledge and example Jesus left us with and apply it.

Jesus has shown us how to live a holy life on earth. And after His Ascension, He shows us the benefits this holy life will bring. By giving us this example and this hope, Jesus informs us of His expectations. We  must continue his mission of love and peace. We must sacrifice and love and forgive because Jesus, our prime example of a holy life, did the same.

God is testing our knowledge. When a teacher administers a test, he does not speak. He does not give you the answers. If he is a good teacher, he has taught you the material. He has prepared you as best as he can. He hopes that you have listened to his teachings and prepared, as well. When you receive that test, he hopes that you can adequately apply the knowledge he has given you. He hopes that you can find your way...without relying solely upon him to provide all the answers. He has not abandoned you. He is still present. He is present in the knowledge you have learned, and he is watching, even if he does so silently.

Christ is our teacher, and the lessons we learn from Him make the difference between life and death, joy and suffering, and love and hatred. When God hands out the tests of our lives, He steps back, for if He were to remain by our sides too often, we would become over-reliant. We would not truly learn and apply His teachings. We would fail to recognize our duty as Christians to continue what He started, to uphold a legacy of Christ's life-giving and undying love.

God has given us a responsibility. And we are not ill-equipped. Every tool we need to accomplish His will has been made available to us. Let us venture forward on this journey Christ has prepared for us, using His footsteps as guidance. Only then can we, too, hope to ascend into Heaven and enjoy an endless, blissful union with our Savior.

Related Song:
Oh God by Citizens

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Update

Due to end-of-year exams and projects, posts may be more intermittent over the next few weeks.

My sincerest apologies,

Faith

The Lost Sheep

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:4-7).

Jesus came for the sinners. He saves the wandering sheep at all costs. He would even leave behind 99 obedient sheep to pursue a single lost one.

This is great knowledge for the sinners. God loves us. He will do anything to bring us back to His side. He will not stop pursuing us, and He will rejoice when are once again following Him. But what about the 99 other sheep who did nothing wrong? Does Jesus not care about them? Why would He leave them to pursue one sinner? Are they getting the short end of the stick in this deal?

No. The answer lies in Isaiah 53:6.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

Each and every one of us, at some point in our lives, is that lost sheep. There is no way to get around this. We are human. We sin and fall short and wander away from God time and time again. Thankfully for us, we have a God who is willing to do anything for us, despite our past errors. He will chase after us, and, for a time, we will rejoin the 99 obedient sheep. Soon, however, we will wander off once again. And once again, Jesus will call us back to His side. That is the beauty of God's grace: it is limitless.

Treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated. It feels good knowing that Jesus would drop everything to come rescue you. It should also feel good to know that He would do the same for another wandering sheep. He would do whatever it takes for that sinner, even if it means leaving you alone for a brief moment (though you will never truly be alone).

We wander. Each and every one of us. But God brings us back to Him--or at least He tries to. The beauty of God's love is that, despite our disregard for God's will, Jesus pursues us. When we are one of the 99, we lead lives focused solely on God's plan for us. When we are that one lost sheep, God invites us to change our ways and return to Him and to the flock of joyous believers.

Jesus loves the sinner. He will do anything for that sinner, for that single lost sheep, for you and for me. He will do anything because we are worth it. We are the reason He came.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

He Knows Us and Loves Us

Ever had a secret that no one knew? Well, guess what...God knows.

God knows it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows us even better than we know ourselves. This omniscience is amazing.

And what is even more amazing is that He knows us and loves us. He still cares for us more than we could ever imagine, regardless of our sins, regardless of whether or not we reciprocate this love.

We "know" a lot of people. We've talked to them. We are familiar with their habits. We may even truly love them. All of these way of "knowing" another pale in comparison to the way God knows us, the way God knows you.

He knows your virtues. He knows your sins. He knows you like no other human could never know you. Every thought you think, He hears. Every action you commit, good or bad, He witnesses. And every time you pray to Him, He listens. When you are happy, He participates in your joy. When you are sad, He sees beyond the words, "I'm fine." He sees your heart's true desires. He knows you and has know you since the moment He formed you in your mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5).

And most importantly, He loves you. Despite your inevitable shortcomings, you are loved. God has the power to give you a blank slate. He has the power to love you unconditionally, even though He knows exactly when, how, and why you have ever turned away from Him in your lifetime. The same God who created everything we know loves and cares about YOU.

God created this entire universe. The planets and stars located light years away were made by His hands. This entire earth and everything on it is His work. Everything that has ever been is His creation. But His most important creation is the human race, His children.

I find it comforting to think about. God knows about the test I'm stressing over. He knows what I had for breakfast. You name it, He knows it. He knows my fears, my insecurities, my doubts. And He continues to love me despite all those times I turn away from Him.

This is one of the many miraculous things about God. He knows us like no human could know us and loves us like no human could love us. His love for us is inexplicably strong, so strong that we cannot even fully comprehend it. We can, however, forget it, an occurrence that happens all too often.

God knows your every thought and your every action. Remember this. Remember to think and act in a way that would make Him proud. God loves you despite your shortcomings. Remember this, too. Remember to treat yourself and others like the wonderful children God considers us all to be.


If you seem to have forgotten about God's deep understanding and love for you, I encourage you to reflect on two songs: How He Loves by the David Crowder Band and You Know Me by Bethel Music.