ALL IN

all-in

“ALL IN”

This has become the rallying cry for the Cleveland Cavaliers as we have advanced through the playoffs and are now headed to the NBA Finals after an exciting four game sweep against the Atlanta Hawks. In those two little words, the team, the fans, and the city itself are daring to hope for the championship that we have never managed to win, while acknowledging exactly what it will take for us to finally make it all the way.

Cleveland has a lot of almost championships. The Indians have almost made it several times. The Browns have almost made it to the playoffs on many occasions as well. And the Cavs, well the Cavs hold perhaps the most bittersweet memories of almost winning for Cleveland.   After several years of being so close, the team, the fans, and the whole northeast Ohio region was angered after the highly publicized decision of LeBron James to leave Cleveland for Miami. The years that followed showed just how much our team had relied on LeBron as we failed to play even close to the level of basketball we had been playing with him.

After last season ended, LeBron announced he was coming home to Cleveland. The announcement was met with a cautious optimism. While the possibility of a championship was exciting, every loss, every “slump” and every injury brought back doubts that this may not be THE YEAR. That maybe, like years before, we just didn’t have what it takes to go all the way. When the playoffs became a reality, it was clear that everyone needed to move past their doubts, beyond what happened in previous years, and support the team fully. The team, the fans, the city itself needed to be ALL IN to make this championship dream a reality.

To be ALL IN playing the game or supporting your basketball team is great. Sports have a way of uniting people even under trying circumstances and a long awaited win would certainly be exciting and uplifting for the whole region. But in the end, it’s still just a game. When it’s all said and done, win or lose, it’s just basketball.

What things in our lives do we really give our all? Sports? Work? Money?   Family & Friends?

If the players, the fans, the whole of northeast Ohio can go ALL IN to support a basketball team, how much more willing should we be to go ALL IN for the things that are most important in our lives? To go ALL IN for the One Thing that is more important than any of it?

Basketball will come to an end. Players will come and go. We may be left with the memory of a championship or of another almost. And while it is nice to be a part of the excitement, to be ALL IN for the Cavs, we are called to something much greater.

We are called to be ALL IN for the One who gave us life, who forgives us time and time again, who fills us with joy and peace that cannot be found anywhere else, and who loves us with a love so deep that He gave His Son for us. To give to the Lord everything that we have without doubts, without reservations, without fear. We are called to trust fully in His promises and to give our ALL to God. He promises far more than a basketball championship. He promises love beyond compare, forgiveness of our sins, a joy that cannot be found anywhere else. He promises eternal life! And that is something definitely worth giving our ALL for.

Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart (Proverbs 3:5)

I will give thanks to the Lord with ALL my heart (Psalm 9:1)

You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength (Mark 12:30)

With Us Always

sun-441565_640As the apostles gathered on that mountain preparing to say goodbye to Jesus once again, I imagine there was quite a mix of emotions. They had already said goodbye before, in a very different setting.

That night of the Last Supper may have been on their minds. Then they did not know what was to happen. They were confused and frightened by His words. They scattered when Jesus was arrested. They hid in fear and shame at betraying their teacher, their friend, their Lord. They wondered what they were supposed to do next. With Jesus dead, now what?

And the Jesus was resurrected from the dead! He was there with them! Not merely as a vision or a ghost, but as an actual person with flesh and bones. A person who ate with them, talked with them, and once again taught them. In these moments spent with Christ after His resurrection, I imagine the apostles were filled with joy. Despite the fear of persecution that followed them, they knew now that Jesus had conquered death! They knew that He truly was God! In the presence of His fully glorified body, they knew in their hearts that He had changed everything and that following Him was the only way to live.

Now, here they were preparing to say goodbye again. Not goodbye forever. No, they knew they would see Him in Heaven one day. But for the remainder of their time here on earth, this was goodbye. Before He ascended into Heaven, He told His apostles to go! They were not to merely sit around amongst each other and reminisce of the “good old days” when Jesus was here. They were not to hide away in secret so that no one would ever find them or know who they were. No. They were called to go forth! To share the Gospel, to baptize, to do all that Jesus had taught them to do while He was there with them.

I wonder if they felt inadequate. If they were worried about how they would fulfil this call. I wonder if Peter’s mind raced back to his betrayal. I wonder if Thomas remembered his doubt. I wonder if in that moment, as Jesus commanded them to go forth and continue on in His work, they felt scared and uncertain. After all, they had messed up before. What if they failed? How would they carry on His mission without Him? How would they know what to say? What to do? How would they know where to go?

Jesus doesn’t leave them stranded though. No. Instead, He blesses them, He tells them of the signs and good deeds they will do in His name, and He tells them that they will be receiving the Holy Spirit.  And then He assures them that He will still be with them. Not just for a few days, not just a few weeks or even years. Jesus promises them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Jesus is always with us. It is something we learned as children, something we may have sang songs about in Sunday School. Something that perhaps, sometimes, we begin take to take for granted. Something that we are so used to saying, so used to hearing, that we fail to recognize the awesomeness of it! Jesus, our Lord and Savior is with us always!

When we are lying in bed at night worrying about bills to pay and work to do; He is there. When we are busy with the family, rushing from one event to another, making phone calls all day long; He is there. When we are angry, when we are sad, when we are joyful; He is there. He is always there.

Jesus is here with us in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls. And through the immeasurable beauty of the gift of the Eucharist, He is here with us not just as a vague idea but actually, physically present among us! We are blessed with the wondrous gift of receiving His Precious Body and Blood into our very selves each Mass. How truly amazing that is!

Just as the apostles were told to go forth in Christ and spread His word, we are called to do the same. And just like the apostles, we are not expected to go do this alone. Through the Sacraments, we have been baptized, we have received the Holy Spirit, and we are able to receive Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. We have been given all that we need! Sometimes we may feel inadequate or doubt that we could ever live up to what it is we have been called to do. We need only to remember that He is truly here with us. Right now, in this very moment, and in every moment still to come.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles “after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52) With the gifts we have been given and the promise we have of Christ’s constant presence here with us, we are called to do the same. To worship Him and to go forth in joy to spread His word. All the while knowing that He is still here.

The Wait

 

 Holy Saturday.  Can you imagine for a moment the feelings those first disciples of Christ must have had on this day?   They had spent the past three years following this man.  Learning from Him, loving Him, and coming to know that He was the Son of God.  Just a week earlier they were filled with such hope and excitement as they joyously followed Him into Jerusalem proclaiming “Hosanna!”  How much changed in that one week!  Their excitement turned to confusion and fear as He spoke of His coming death.  In that upper room for the Last Supper they saw Him begin His sacrifice by offering His body and blood in the bread and the wine.  They wanted to remain with Him and followed Him to the garden but could not keep awake.

Then the arrest.  In that instant fear took hold and most of the disciples scattered.  Those who remained followed at a distance as their Lord was taken away like a criminal, though He had done no wrong.  And on that Friday, Jesus,  their teacher, their friend, their Lord, died.  They were afraid and troubled.  They hid themselves in the upper room with the doors locked.

Filled with sorrow and fear, they hid.  Where they had hope before they now felt lost and confused.  Everything seemed dark.  Did they wonder, how can we possibly go on?  Did they recall His promises of rebuilding the Temple in three days?  Did they dare to hope in their hearts that this would be fulfilled?  Or did the fear overcome the flicker of hope so that they forced themselves not to think on it so as not to be disappointed?

How do we celebrate Holy Saturday today? Most of us probably use the day to prepare for Easter tomorrow.  Preparing food and getting the house ready for visits with famiky and friends perhaps.  We know that Good Friday was not the end!  We know that Jesus Christ lives!  With this knowledge we can go about today not in fear or confusion but in hope and excitement as we prepare for the wondrous celebration of Easter!

What about other times of waiting though?  All of us face those in between periods.  Those times when things seem dark, when hope seems lost, when we feel confused and do not know where to turn next.  While we wait for His plan to unfold in our own lives, do we wait in fear and hide ourselves away?  Do we let the hope within us fade so that even when the wonder of God is right before our eyes we still doubt it in our hearts?  Or do we face our own times of waiting filled the hope and peace of Christ?

We know that Christ is Risen!  It seems easier to celebrate this time of waiting on Holy Saturday since we know the outcome.  Even if we do not know the outcome of whatever it is we may be waiting for here on earth, we know that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!  He conquered sin and death and by His wounds we have been healed!  This wondrous love is what awaits us.  Though we may not know what will happen from day to day as we wait for answers to our earthly questions and worries, we know the One who is in control.  We know the immense love He has for us all, the love that was shown on the cross.  We know that He has a plan for each of us greater than we could imagine for ourselves, even if we cannot see it yet.  By following in His footsteps and accepting the love He poured out for us on the cross, we know that we have so much more to look forward to: eternity in Heaven with our Savior!

As excruciating as Good Friday was for those first disciples, as sorrowful as that first Holy Saturday, it was not the end.  The pain and sorrow turned to a greater joy than they could have imagined.  A peace beyond all understanding and hope beyond any they had known before came to them in the Risen Lord.

We will all face tough times here on earth.  Times of sorrow, times of doubt,  of worry, confusion, of frustration with the waiting. But we can find peace and hope while we wait.  Because in the midst of all our trials, Christ is still there.  And the love that He has for us will never die.  As we continue our celebration of the Triduum, I pray that we can look to Easter with a hope and peace that fills every part of our being.  I pray that we will carry the love and joy of Easter within our hearts as a promise to us all that the “Saturdays” in our lives, those dark and confusing times of waiting, those will come to and end! I pray that we may strive daily to live our lives not in fear or confusion, not in sorrow or pain, but in the glorious hope and peace of Christ and His wondrous love.  May the peace of Christ be with us all and may each of you enjoy a very blessed, a very joyous, and a very hope-filled Easter.

The Spirit is Willing

rose-655361_640Each year as we reflect upon the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week, I am filled with resolve to be a better person.  To turn away from sin and to fill my life with all that is holy.  To think of the pain Christ endured because of my sins makes me yearn to never sin again.

And yet, as wonderful as it would be to say that since last Easter, I have not sinned, that is certainly not the case.  Although in my heart I firmly intend to turn away from sin, in my soul I long to be closer to the Lord, I am still only human.

Thinking about our sins and our failings in light of the sacrifice Jesus made for us is one thing.  What would it have been like to be there?  We sing the words, “Oh  sometimes it causes me to tremble, were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  And while we journey alongside Christ through prayer and the Mass, we were not there.  But the apostles were.  They followed Him, learned from Him, left everything for Him.  They loved Him deeply and in their hearts they were so filled with resolve to follow Him always, never to sin again.

We hear the apostles one by one almost pleading with Jesus to not be the betrayer, “Surely it is not I?” (Mk 14:19)  We hear Peter promising the Lord that “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29) and “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly. (Mk 14:31)  They ate with Him and listened to Him as He told them of His coming death, even while their hearts did not fully understand.  They followed Him to Gethsemane to be with Him while He prayed and stayed there to keep watch as He asked.  And then, in their final moments with the Lord, they fell asleep.

Jesus comes to Peter saying, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  (Mk 14:37-38)  Despite His words, twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep.  Though their hearts were in the right place, they could not bring themselves to stay awake!

After Jesus is arrested,  although Peter proclaimed His dedication to the Lord and was determined never to deny Him, we know that he does just that. Not once, not twice, but three times does he deny even knowing Jesus.  After this the Gospel tells us that Peter “broke down and wept”. (Mk 14:72)

Peter was not just a bystander who listened to Christ from a distance.  He had dedicated his whole life to Christ!  He had boldly answered Christ,You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29)  And while his spirit was so very willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, he still fell to sin.  Though his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak.  Weak with fear, confusion, and exhaustion.

But Peter’s story does not end here.  Despite the weakness of his flesh, despite his failings and sin, his spirit was still willing!  He wept at the realization of what he had done.  He resolved once again to try harder, to follow more closely, to turn away from sin and live a holy life dedicated to the Lord. The Lord knew that He could do great things through Peter.  Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus knew that the willingness of Peter’s spirit would prevail against the weakness of his fleas.  Peter’s story is not one of despair, but one of hope and of great mercy and grace.  Despite his failings, Peter allowed the Lord to work within him.  He repented of his sins and did not let his past failings prevent him from continuing on in Christ.

As we celebrate our Lord’s passion this week we call to mind our own sinfulness.  While we are called to repent and turn from sin, sometimes our flesh is weak.  During these moments of weakness, we do not need to despair.  Our God is loving and merciful beyond our understanding and His grace is more than we can fathom.  When we find that we have failed, we need only to ask forgiveness, turn away from sin, and return fully to His endless love.  We are not held back by past failings but are renewed in Christ.  Though our flesh may be weak, if our spirits are willing He can still work within us to draw us ever closer to Him and to share in His love.

How Can this Be…?

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_AnnunciationMary’s YES to the Lord can seem incredibly daunting.  How could Mary, as a young virgin girl, hop on board so easily?  Why do I struggle so much with discerning God’s will for my own life?  Why can’t I say YES in the same way?

When Gabriel greets Mary he tells her that she is full of grace and that the Lord is with her.  What wondrous words!  God’s grace had already filled the Blessed Mother.  And while this was her biggest YES to the Lord, it was hardly her first.  Gabriel tells Mary she has found favor with the Lord.  She has been living a holy life, following the Lord, and placing her trust in Him.   She was given a special grace from God to prepare her for this moment.  In short, she was given everything that she needed to make this decision.

Our God loves us.  He does not desire to put us into situations we are completely unprepared for.  Instead, He calls each one of us and is by our side constantly in life to prepare us for what He has in store for us.  He gives each of us the grace we need to say YES to His call in our own lives.

But as I am only human, there are times when I still feel confused by it all.  Times when I want to know more, to understand what will happen next.

Then I read those words again,

“How can this be…?”

Mary did not understand it all either.  When Gabriel greets Mary, she is troubled and confused.  Even after Gabriel tells her not to fear and that she will be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will reign forever, she asks, how?  She wanted to understand.

Eve wanted to understand, too.  She was literally surrounded by God’s goodness, but she still wanted to know more.  She wanted to know the how and the why of it all.  She also had a choice to make, and she chose to follow her own path, to turn away from God.  Rather than trusting in His promises, she took matters into her own hands, choosing sin over God.

Mary chose differently.  She was still confused.  She still wanted to understand more.  But rather than trying to figure it out on her own, she turned to God.  She asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”   And she took the explanation that was given to her.  Gabriel did not explain exactly how it would all work.  He didn’t tell her how to deal with the questions from others, including Joseph! He didn’t reveal everything that the future would hold.  But he did remind her “nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary didn’t continue to question the specifics of everything.  She knew what she needed to know.  And so she put her trust in the Lord and said YES.

Sometimes saying YES to God means we can see it all clearly before us.  And sometimes, saying YES means knowing that we need to trust in Him even when we can’t understand how it will all work out in the end. We may ask the Lord, how can this be?  To ask Him this is to seek His guidance.  And though we may not see it right away, He will always answer with whatever it is we need to know.  Even if all we need to know in that moment is that nothing is impossible for God!

When we are faced with confusion and doubt, when tough decisions come our way, when we simply feel the need to know and understand, we have two choices. We can choose to give into the temptation and place our quest for knowledge above our trust in God, as Eve did.  Or, we can use the grace He has given us to say YES to God even though we may not understand it all. We find hope in the knowledge that nothing is impossible for God.  And through this hope, through His grace, we can follow the example of our loving and holy Mother Mary and say “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

In the Simple Stillness

daisy-143186_640People want miracles.  They want to see instant cures and lasting peace.  They want to see the stars and the moon dance around in circles and for the world’s hunger to be instantly gone. They want to see something astounding.  Something that defies all explanation.   Something AMAZING!

People want a sign.  They want God to answer their prayers in a visible and immediate manner.  They want to hear God speaking and see Him working through a grand and wondrous spectacle.

People say that if they saw these things, if they heard His voice, if they had actual proof, then they would believe.

The truth is that God has worked miracles too numerous to count in people all over the world since the beginning of time.  Those miracles still happen today, even if we cannot open our eyes and our hearts to see them.

Miracles are little glimpses of Heaven, of the glory of the Lord that is too awesome to fathom.  But we do not need miracles to hear God’s voice and to feel His presence.  For even in the presence of great miracles, many saw and still did not believe. Beyond the miracles that leave us speechless, God is still there.  In every moment of every day, He is there.

The Lord meets us in the stillness of our hearts, in the silence of prayer, in the beauty of the sacraments.  He speaks to us all in a manner so beautifully and exquisitely simple that it touches the deepest parts of our souls and transforms our entire lives.  All we need to do is open our hearts to Him.

“This is how the Lord acts: He does things simply. He speaks silently to you, to the heart. Let us remember in our lives the many time we have felt these things: the humility of God is His style; the simplicity of God is His style. And even in the liturgical celebration, in the sacraments, what is beautiful is that which manifests the humility of God, and not the worldly spectacle. It would do us good to journey through our life and to consider the many times the Lord has visited us with His grace, and always with this humble style, the style He calls us, too, to have: humility.”  ~ Pope Francis

‘What Color is the Dress?’ A Lesson on Faith by Amanda Rego

635605843196354135-Screen-Shot-2015-02-26-at-9.51.11-PM“What Color is this Dress?” is the question the whole Internet has been going crazy over. Some people, including myself, see a white and gold striped dress, yet others swear they only see blue and black. At first I thought the #blueandblack crowd was crazy, and I jumped on the #whiteandgold bandwagon refusing to budge. That is, until the designer of the actual dress announced the actual colors to be…blue and black?!

M I N D   B L O W I N G !

Even after more photos of this royal blue dress were revealed, I’ll admit I was and am still a bit skeptical. It’s never easy to trust someone when you don’t see what they see. The more I thought about this phenomenon the more I realized that ‘the dress’ might just be the perfect example to illustrate faith.

Continue reading this awesome blog post by my sister here!