Reality Check

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Do you ever find yourself getting your hopes up about something only to quickly suppress them with a “reality check?”  You think for a minute that what you have wanted is just about to come true!  Hopes are high and you are filled with joy and certainty that everything will work out perfectly.  And then the little thoughts creep in…

“well it’s not realistic to expect that to happen immediately…”

“Better not get my hopes up, realistically we couldn’t afford it anyway…”

“Just because I want it to happen, realistically there is a lot standing in the way and chances are pretty slim…”

We dash our own hopes with our perceived notions of reality.  We have an idea in our minds of how things “realistically” happen in this world.  And more often than not, that idea is filled with negativity.  Why is that?

We can tell ourselves it is because we are being realistic.  Because we are thinking logically.  Because we are analyzing the situation from various aspects.  Because we are simply preparing ourselves for what is most likely to happen. But what it really boils down to is this: a lack of trust.

Do we truly believe that our wildest hopes and dreams are too far-fetched for God?  Do we seriously think that for one second we know what “reality” is better than our Father? I’m not talking about tempting God with outlandish requests to see if He really will answer them.  I am talking about sincere hopes and prayers.

Like praying for a friend to be cured.

Praying for a new career opportunity to allow you to spend more time with family.

Or, in my case, even praying for a baby.

When we ask for these things, why do we feel the need to stack the odds against ourselves?  Do we feel as though our requests are too big, too difficult for God?

Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”  Mark 11:23

God knows what is in our hearts.  When deep in my heart I know my soul is pleading and praying for a baby, do I really think God is fooled by me listing all the reasons it won’t happen?  The only one I am fooling is myself.  Realistically the only thing I know for certain is that God has it under control.

Our God is loving, kind, merciful, forgiving.  Much more so than any of us ever could be.  When we pray and are open to His will in our lives, we need to have full faith that He hears our prayers. Not only that, but He answers them.  We may not know how or when, but He does.  And if the answer doesn’t come as quickly or in the exact way we wanted, we do not need to worry or feel discouraged.  Instead, we remain joyful and filled with the hope and love of Christ.  Because anything He has planned is far greater than what we could dream up for ourselves.

So while we wait for an answer to our prayers, forget about the logic.  Give yourself a reality check.  Not the kind our world tells us we need.  Not analyzing finances and listing all the reasons why it won’t happen.  But check yourself into the only true reality.  The reality that God loves you.  Remain constantly filled with hope and joy and the knowledge that God is answering your prayer!  And the answer is better than we ever could have expected.

Living Like Children

20141016161810163“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:16-17

What does it mean to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child“?

Receiving the kingdom is receiving God and all His promises.  Accepting His love, His forgiveness, His mercy.   It is a wondrous gift given to us.  So how do we receive it?

When a child is given a gift, especially a gift that they truly want, they are beyond thrilled!   They don’t open the gift and carry on and on about “oh no you shouldn’t have!” or how they are not worthy of such a gift.  They know that it was given to them in love.  And so they receive it fully.  A little girl doesn’t open the doll she has been hoping for and then set her aside to play with some day in the distant future.  Instead, she will open the gift and instantly play with the doll.  The gift is immediately put to use and is never far from her.

In the same way, we are to receive God’s gift to us.  We have been given the greatest gift there ever could be.  Do we refuse to accept it because we feel unworthy?  Do we place it up on a shelf to collect dust?  Or to we embrace the gift and put it to use?  If we are following our call to be like the little children, we know we need to fully receive and use these gifts.

We have been given so many gifts.  Too many to list!  But for now I am going to focus on mercy, forgiveness, and love.  How do children receive these gifts and put them to use?

Forgiveness.

I spent three years teaching in the toddler classroom of a local childcare center.  That’s thirteen toddlers a year for three years.  Inevitably, on any given day, someone would hurt someone else.  One child gets angry and hits another child.  Someone has the toy car that they clearly wanted first and so they bite them.  Or pull out hair.  Or kick.  Or throw a book at them.  Or maybe not physically harm at all.  Maybe shout in their face.  Or perhaps give them the worst insult a toddler could receive from another toddler…”You are not invited to my birthday party!”  (Side note…most of the time this threat was issued, no one’s birthday was even remotely close)

So Sammy hits Sally and they both begin to cry.  Sally because she is hurt.  Sammy because he knows he did wrong and will likely get in trouble for it.  After a little teacher intervention, the tears are dried, they hug each other and move along.  They might return immediately to playing with each other.  Or they may go play with another child for the time being.  But they aren’t mad at each other.  They are back to being friends, just like that!  Later on, perhaps even the same day, Sally might get angry and scream in Sammy’s face. Despite the earlier confrontation, again the tears will be wiped, hugs will be given, and they will carry on.

They forgive.  Will they fight again?  Of course.  Will they make mistakes and hurt each other?  Probably.  But each time, through they may scream and cry like the world is ending, they will forgive everything and go back to playing together.

How do we forgive others who hurt us?  Do we hold grudges?  Does it take time for us to determine whether they are truly sorry before we accept their apology and move along?  And what about our repeat offenders?  When someone who has hurt us before hurts us again, do we bring up the pain from the past?  Or do we let the past stay where it is and simply forgive again?

Mercy.

In the toddler classroom, when someone is crying the other children take notice.  If one child started to cry because they were missing Mom, often times another child would offer up a stuffed animal, favorite blankie, or coveted toy to try and make them feel better. When someone would cry uncontrollably, there would always be another child close by to ask in the most sincere way, “Why are they crying?  Are they sad?”  Toddlers don’t ask this out of obligation.  They truly want to know.  Why is their friend sad?  And how can they help?  It doesn’t matter to them if their friend is crying because they miss mom, because they wanted juice instead of milk, or because they don’t want to sit on the potty.  They don’t worry about whether their tears are sincere.  They simply want to help.

When we see others around us in need, do we show them this kind of mercy and compassion? Or do we try to analyze the situation before offering assistance?  How often in today’s society do we hear people say that they don’t help this person or that organization because they don’t know where the money really will be used.  Or because they don’t think that person is sincere in their troubles.  Or because they feel there is nothing they can do.  Let’s take a cue from these little ones and offer mercy to all those around us in whatever way we can.

Love.

How do the little ones love? With all their hearts.  They love the person.  It does not matter to them what color their skin is or how much money they have.  They aren’t concerned with the lifestyle of their friends, with the bad things they do that get them in trouble.  They don’t judge each other over every mistake.  They see the good rather than focusing on the bad.

What about us?  What are the barriers that we put up which prevent us from loving others?  Are we more concerned with race, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation than we are in getting to know the person?  Not by their past, not by their faults, but by the good within them.  By the person that God created them to be.

The little children receive kingdom of God with arms and hearts wide open.  They joyfully accept the wonderful gifts God has given and put them to use without a second thought.  They forgive, they care, they love.  Let us pray that our hearts may be made open and pure like those of the littlest children so that we might accept the Lord’s gifts and receive His kingdom fully.

Adoration

adorationI love going to Mass on Sundays.  The peace and joy that I feel does wonders for my soul and rejuvenates every part of me.  Even if I am having an emotional day and find myself crying during Mass, when we are given the instruction to go forth in the peace of Christ and sing that final hymn, I always leave feeling uplifted.

Throughout the week though, sometimes life gets in the way.  Despite my prayers and trying my best to remain focused on His light and His love for us, by the time Sunday comes around again I am in need of more.  I am relieved to be able to go to Mass once more and refresh my soul in the community of prayer and in the ultimate peace that comes from being in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Recently I decided that rather than waiting until I am overwhelmed by the usual weekly worries, I should work to find a way to continually be in His peace.  Not to take the place of the prayer life I currently have, but to enhance it.  While I cannot attend Mass daily, my church has Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday.  I decided to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.  I went and was not disappointed.  My soul was refreshed, my worries were gone.  Everything melted away until only the peace and love of Christ remained.  I was eager to return next week and again found the same peace.

This week I was unable to go after work.  I found myself sitting at my desk Tuesday morning feeling again overwhelmed.  My brain started to derail and head down a path of negative thinking.  Worries crammed into my head and stress began to eat away at me.  I thought to myself, it is too bad I cannot attend Adoration at my church tonight.

But then I thought, why let that stop me?  I remembered hearing a listing on my local Catholic radio station of all the parishes in our area offering Adoration.  I looked online and sure enough I found a Catholic church not even five minutes from my office that holds perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament!  Immediately I started to feel better and was looking forward to going on my lunch break at work.

I only have a half hour lunch so I had to be quick.  I was worried I would find myself feeling rushed and wouldn’t be able to focus or relax.  In five minutes I arrived at this little chapel set back from the main church.  I went inside and was immediately at peace.   Tiny pews just big enough for one person, or perhaps two people if they squeezed together close,   lined a short aisle leading up to a beautiful altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed beneath a large Crucifix.  A statue of Mary was on one side of the altar, and St. Joseph on the other.  There were little stained glass windows lining the walls of the tiny chapel.  It was very beautiful.

But more than the beautiful appearance of this little chapel, you could feel the presence of the Lord.  There is something about sitting silently in Adoration, knowing that in a mystery we will never understand, Jesus is right there before us.  Not as a representation.  Not as an invisible presence.  Truly, visibly there.  I sat in a pew and took a quick glance at my watch making a mental note of when I would need to leave to be back to work in time.

As I began to pray, time stood still.  I did not feel rushed.  I did not feel the need to continually check my watch.  I prayed and knelt in the presence of my Lord and felt at peace.  When my prayers were finished and it was time to leave, although I had only been there for perhaps 15 minutes, it felt so much longer.

I went back to work and about my day as usual.  Nothing was different about the rest of the day.  The things I was worried about before, they didn’t disappear.  The things that were stressing me out, they weren’t magically gone.  What changed was me.  Instead of letting those things control me, I did what I needed to do to refocus myself on Christ.

My schedule will change and there will be times I cannot make it to Adoration.  Work obligations, family obligations, travel, weather, appointments, these things happen.  But I realize now how to deal with the little things that threaten to overwhelm me.  It is to place myself fully in God’s presence.  Through prayer, through Scripture, through Adoration.   Through being with Him and letting His Spirit fill my body, my mind, and my soul, until there is nothing but the love, joy, and peace of Christ.

“In this silence of the white Host, carried in the Monstrance, are all His words; there is His whole life given in offering to the Father for each of us; there is also the glory of the glorified body, which started with the Resurrection, and still continues in Heavenly union.”  - St. John Paul II, June 19, 1979 – Angelus Address At The Vatican

Our Lady of the Rosary

20141007102001041Today we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The Rosary is a most beautiful and powerful prayer.  As we pray through the words of Scripture and focus on the life of Our Savior, we are filled with peace and the love of Christ.  We grow closer and closer to Jesus through His Mother, who is indeed our mother as well.  Our devotion to His Blessed Mother does not take away from the glory of God.   But through her loving and faithful example, she has shown us how to love her Son, Jesus.

Our Lady of the Rosary, lead us to your Son, our Savior. We pray that through the devotion of the Rosary we might draw closer to the Lord and draw others to Him.  Pray for us that we might reflect His light to all those around us.  We pray that we may learn to love Him with all our hearts and trust in Him completely, as you did.  In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“God, Who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would be only a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing. With Him, she is the Mother of Men. On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet while we await the sunrise.”  – Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The Human Heart Guard

Doc1I love my little puggle pup. She warms my heart and is part of our family.   As such, I want to take care of her to the best of my ability.   That means treating her to protect against fleas and ticks on our many walks in the park, taking her to the vet when she is sick, and giving her the monthly dose of medicine to protect against heartworm and other worms.  One of the popular versions of this medication is called Heartgard.  Now I am not here to plug Heartgard or advertise for them…in fact I am not even sure that we use their brand!  But as I contemplated the second reading from Mass yesterday, “heart guard” popped into my head.

The reading we heard in Mass was Philippians 4:6-9

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

What a beautiful passage!  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts…”  Isn’t that wonderful?  I imagine a tiny angel standing watch outside my heart.  Serving as  my own form of “heart guard” by keeping out all the worries, all the fear, the doubt, the anxiety, the negativity.  Only the good is allowed to enter.  And there is certainly enough good to fill up our hearts!  With such wondrous things surrounding us, how is it that those sneaky feelings of doubt and worry and overall negativity somehow break through and enter into our hearts?

Medications like Heartgard are wonderful!  But if you don’t use them regularly, if you let them sit in their box unopened, if you only give them to your pet once in a blue moon, they won’t be effective.  Despite all the merits they offer, without proper use, they won’t protect against a thing.

Perhaps we need to contemplate our own human form of heart guard.  This passage tells us that God will guard our hearts.  But it also gives us the instructions.  “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,”  These are our first instructions.  To let go of worry.  To pray about everything and to let God handle our prayers.  To do this requires full trust.  The kind of trust that allows us to leave it in God’s hands and trust our prayers are heard and answered, even if we do not know how or when.

Our next piece of instruction in this passage is hidden within the promise “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   I am not a vet.  I do not understand how my dog’s heartworm medicine works to protect against disease.  I simply trust that by following the instructions, she will be protected.   In the same sense, we need to trust in God’s loving care and protection even though we do not understand it all.  The human heart guard we are given is the peace of God.  This peace is beyond our comprehension and is far too great for us to understand.  That’s ok!  We do not need to understand it.  We just need to trust.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”    This is where it is really laid out for us.  How do we allow our hearts and minds to be guarded against negativity?  Simple – we focus on the positive!  Rather than filling our minds with thoughts of doubt and despair, we focus our attention on the wonderful things that surround us.  We count our blessings and take a moment to find the good in whatever situation we may find ourselves.

Notice this is not a one time deal.  The final instruction we receive in this short passage tells us “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”  This is a continuous process.  To keep doing what we have been taught.  To keep loving God, loving our neighbors, finding the blessings all around us, following God’s commands, and placing out full trust in Him.  To keep up with the things we have received through God’s grace and the Sacraments.  To keep following Christ no matter what comes our way.

What happens if we forget to follow the instructions?  If we miss a dose of our heart guard and find ourselves lacking that peace within us?  God does not leave us.  He is always there with peace so as to fill not only our hearts and minds but truly our entire being!  The more we empty of ourselves, of our own concerns and fears, the more room we make for God’s peace to fill us up.  If we find that we have allowed the negative thoughts, the worries, the fear and the doubt to creep back in, we need not fear!  The peace of God is always within our reach.  We simply need to pray, to trust, to give it all to the Lord, and to focus instead on the wondrous blessings that surround us.  And then we will find our hearts, minds, and souls protected by our very own human heart guard by being filled with a peace beyond our understanding. The peace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Little Flower’s Little Way

litany17c“Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God.”  – St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower (Story of a Soul, Chapter X)

October 1st is the Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux.   Her “little way” inspires me to find the little things in my own life that can be used to grow closer to God.  Whether it be little actions I can take, little words I can speak, little prayers I can offer, little songs I may sing, or the little things that surround us as evidence of God’s love for us.  I pray that I might find my own little way to Christ and to help others along the way.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”   Matthew 19:14

 

 

To learn more about St. Therese, visit the Society of the Little Flower.

Salvation By Faith or Works? {Part 2}

sun-16837_640…Continued from part one posted yesterday

Salvation is through grace! It is through the wondrous grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We do not earn grace, it is a gift given freely to us by Our Lord through His death and resurrection!

A gift is meant to be accepted. When you give someone a birthday present, you expect that they will open it! Furthermore, you hope that they will use the gift you gave them.

God has given us the gift of His grace through which we may have eternal life! To accept this gift is to put all our faith in the endless love and mercy of Jesus. To accept this gift we must accept the truth that Jesus if the Son of God. That through His death and resurrection, death has been defeated! To accept this gift means we accept all that Christ taught. And by our acceptance, we agree to live the way that He taught us to live. This is where the works come into play. Take a look at how Christ says we are to live our lives:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”  Matthew 5: 14-16

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40

When Jesus gives us this greatest commandment, He quickly follows it with a second commandment.  Why?  Because they go together.  The first is an act of faith.  To love the Lord with all that we have.  The second is a commandment of how we are to treat others.  To believe in Christ, to have full faith in all that He taught demands that we live a life that shows His love in us through our own works.  Perhaps this is best described in Matthew:

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

This makes it perfectly clear that is we profess our belief in God and in Jesus Christ His Son, we must take that belief and live it!  We must do as Christ did, follow in His footsteps, and express our faith through the works that we do.  For the good things we do here on earth even to the least among us, are done for the Lord.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:14-17

This is not contradictory to Paul’s words. Rather, it is meant to go hand in hand! The gates of Heaven are open to us through the grace of Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection, He has given us the amazing gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven. To receive this gift is to accept all that He has taught. By acceptance of His teachings and His grace, we are called to live out our faith through our actions to shine Christ’s light to all among us! We are called to live like Christ.

We cannot earn Heaven. The price for our sins was paid by Christ. But that does not mean we merely state that we believe and are exempt from our actions. By our belief in the saving power of Christ, we also believe in His commandments, which demand action from us. By choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, we are denying the teachings of Christ, and therefore denying His gift to us. When we sin, we have failed in our call to love Christ above all and to love our neighbors. Through our faith in His saving grace, we know that sin is not the end. Through this faith we have hope that, despite our failings, through the grace of God we are healed. We are called to live this faith through our every action.

Salvation is by the grace of God which we accept through faith in Him alone as our Savior and which calls us to live as He did, to love Him, to love others, and to serve others in His name.

 *for more on this topic, check out one of my favorite blogs: Living the Reality of Jesus.