Can You Drink This Cup?

A reflection from Matthew 20:20-23

“Then the motherof the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left [, this] is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

My son, Mark, has gotten it into his head lately that he would REALLY like to build a rocket booster that he can strap to his back, shoot to the moon, and get some moon dust. He and his brother, Luke, have an ongoing debate about whether the moon dirt is more gray than white, or the other way around. My money is that it’s more yellow. Every day Mark works on his jet pack just a bit. Yesterday He asked me to drill a hole in the bottom of the wood he screwed together so that it will eventually hold a rocket booster. Before the jet pack and rocket booster he wanted me to help him build a boat and motor…from scratch!, and before that an airplane, again, from scratch. If only everyone believed so much and had such confidence in my ability! 🙂

I think my son Mark is a lot like the mother of the sons of Zebedee. I often find myself telling him, “Son, you don’t know what you’re asking!” I love his enthusiasm, his confidence, and especially his faith in me. He believes in me more than anyone else in the world–even if that means he asks for things quite beyond my pay grade! Both Mark and the mother of the sons of Thunder have much to teach us today as we continue our journey through the Season of Lent.

What confidence this mother has, and what faith to so boldly approach Jesus with her request. She is unafraid to ask Jesus for her heart’s desire! Let us too approach Jesus with our biggest hopes and ask Him to fulfill our greatest dreams and desires. Also, we should never be afraid to ask Jesus for what we want, but be willing to trust that what we want may not be what we need at this time…or ever. Our vision is often limited by our experience and limited imagination, and our God is always a God who always gives us more than we could ever imagine, but never more than we can handle with His help and guidance.

What confidence also the Sons of Zebedee have in their own ability to handle whatever lies before them. “Can you handle it?” Jesus asks. “We can!” they respond. I can’t tell you the number of times I go to bed entirely confident that I’m going to get up at five a.m. and go for a run. At five a.m., however, when it’s still dark outside, super cold, and my bed is warm, my enthusiasm wanes considerably! But we know how the story goes with Jesus’ disciples too. They abandoned Him when He was arrested and had to carry His cross. They do eventually return, however, and even die for His name, but only in God’s time.

As Lent started we too probably had the enthusiasm of these Sons of Thunder! Lenten sacrifices, Lenten promises, and Lenten awareness of our own weakness and brokenness. God is not calling us to be and do all things. God is instead calling us to be entirely WILLING and courageous enough to be and do all things He asks. God needs us entirely committed to following Him and doing His will. We will undoubtedly struggle with this at first, as we are not yet perfect in holiness. But what matters most to God, I think, is our growth in Holiness from day to day. Our prayer is that tomorrow we will be holier than today.

This process of growth in holiness is what we call sanctification. Each day we must begin anew, recommit ourselves to greater holiness, and be entirely confident of God’s powerful Spirit to complete the good work that God has been begun in us. Every day God looks to me and asks that I do great things that are entirely beyond what I believe I can do. God gives me great gifts that are to be used in His service to more fully manifest His Kingdom on earth. God always asks me to do more than I could ever think possible.

Being faithful to God looks different for each of us as we all grow toward greater holiness. I’m not sure where you are today, but I know with certainty that God wants you closer to Him and will give you the gifts to serve Him in our world. For my part, I need to get home and build a jet pack for a boy who believes in me. Whose jet pack are you building?

By catholicevangelist

Seeking A Sign

A Reflection on Luke 11:29-32

“While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.'”

What “sign” are you looking for? So many today are looking for some external reason to believe. It wasn’t different when Jesus lived and walked the earth. All throughout the Gospels people are always asking for “proof,” for “signs,” or something that inspires awe and wonder that they might believe (See John 6:25). Jesus condemns the hardness of heart  by those who follow Him. Jesus calls them “an evil generation.” EVIL! Wow! That’s pretty harsh. Are we evil simply because we need a little proof, a little sign, or a little something special to make us believe? Maybe this story will help a bit.

My sons are quite amazing. I love those guys so much! And my wife loves them almost as much as I do! My son, Mark, says to me yesterday, “Dad, if you  loved me you would buy me that 550 chord bracelet with a compass!” Mark is no doubt loved by my wife and I, but for him, because of his narrowness of vision and lack of reflection, he hinges our love on a particular act. He wants a sign. If you love me, you would…

My job as a parent is to help Mark see that my love for him is so much greater than His desire for this sign. Narrowness of vision is not his fault, but is rather my job. My job is to help him see that I go to work everyday and spend a great deal of time to put a roof over his head, give him a bed to sleep in, clothes on his back, shoes on his feet, books to read, a fire in the fireplace, and food on the table. My wife’s love is revealed in her keeping our house and his bedroom clean, doing dishes non stop, constant reminding and discipline, cleaning and folding piles of laundry, learning about and cooking good and healthy food, giving baths, and the list goes on. There are a thousand signs a day that reveal mine and my wife’s love for Mark…AND HE WANTS A SIGN! The problem is not that there are not signs but that my son is blind to the signs that already exist and are abundant! Would that at every moment my son might see our every effort, every worry, every, concern, and every moment spent on their behalf as a sign of our deep love for him (and his brother, Luke, too!).

And the same is true for us. The problem is not that God is not blessing us abundantly at every moment, but instead that we fail to recognize all the blessings in our life. We are too busy to reflect on all of the signs of God’s love all around us! Our great bodies, and minds, and family. Our great education system, government, and resources! Our great freedoms, and rights, and opportunities! All of these great things are amazing blessings! And we, like my son Mark, are too often unaware of these and other gifts, too often ungrateful, and are too often not thankful. Yes, an evil and ungrateful generation we are indeed. Our lives should be filled with praise and thanksgiving, but are instead filled with anxiety, hostility, and unfaithfulness to the Great Gift Giver.

Our Lord did indeed give us and every generation that sign of God’s love that would trump every other sign that could be given–His very life. God’s own Son was sacrificed on our behalf. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believed in Him might not perish but have eternal life. (JN 3:16) What sign were we looking for again? What proof do we need? Even the Queen of Sheba (a non Jew) traversed land and see to hear the wisdom of Solomon, to learn from him that she too might know and see. Should we do less?
Forgive us, Father, for we are forgetful and blind. Open our eyes to see your abundant blessings, and give us minds to reflect and give thanks. As we journey through this season of Lent, let us always seek your truth, and experience your abiding presence and blessing in our lives. Help us to never forget.

By catholicevangelist

Y.O.L.O.

And then God said to mankind, “YOLO!” Well, not really, but something like that. My students enjoy a new sort of saying today (You Only Live Once) that I believe is very true, although we have a very different way of interpreting its meaning. While my students will use it to justify irresponsible action that is potentially harmful to themselves and others, I believe that it is a wake-up call to love and accountability. That we only have one life to live is a painful reminder that life is short and it’s time to examine ourselves to discern whether what we are doing is consistent with the will of God.

St. Paul tells the Romans, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (12:2) We are not the Creator, after all, but the creature. We were created by God and for God, and find our true happiness only in His will.

Our Church celebrates this reminder of our mortality and the brevity of life on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of our 40-Day Lenten journey of transformation. My students say Y.O.L.O., but Scripture says it like this: 

  • GN 2:5-7 When God made the Imageearth and the heavens—He formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
  • GEN 18:27 Abraham speaks to God and says, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”
  • PS 90:3 God says through the psalmist, “You return to dust, “Return, you mortals!.”
  • PS 104:29 When God hides His face, we are lost. When He takes away our breath, we perish and return to the dust from which we came.
  • ECCL 3:20 We are made from the dust, and to the dust we return.

In all these different ways God’s Word is a consistent reminder that we will not be on this earth forever–in fact, but for a short time! No one will make it out of here physically alive. Everyone you’ve known, everyone you know, and everyone you will know will ultimately “return to the dust.” This became painfully obvious to me when visiting Terceira, one of the Azores Islands, when I was a boy. I visited our family’s burial plot next to the old church. It was not fancy and very, very small. People had been buried in this tiny plot, about the size of a quarter of a football Imagefield, for generations. There were bones everywhere (hence the term “bone yard”) as each new generation reused the same plot to bury their dead where the previous generation had buried the ones that they loved years before. My friends, in short time we all return to dust. 

The most common response I hear to why people get ashes on Wednesday is, “Well, I’m Catholic.” The conversation with the co-worker goes something like this, “What’s on your forehead?”

“Oh, those are Ashes.”

“That’s kind of weird. Why do you have ashes on your head?”

“Well, it’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m Catholic, so we’re supposed to get ashes today.”

I’m told that short of only Christmas and Easter, more Catholics attend Ash Wednesday services, than any other time of the year. The crazy thing is that Ash Wednesday is not even a Holy Day of Obligation, as are all Sundays and Holy Days of the year. Why would so many people get to Church before work, on their lunch break, or after work just to get ashes that many know nothing about? A cynical friend of mine assures me that it’s because that’s the only day the Church gives out anything for free!

Or maybe it’s because down deep we know that the teaching is true. We are prone to sickness, disease, brokenness, and death. We see it on the news, experience it in our towns, our schools, and in our families. WE ARE HUMAN and will die, but we have also been MADE DIVINE and the Spirit of God lives in us, and so we too are eternal.

Where we spend our eternity, either with God or separated from God, hangs in the delicate balance of how we choose to live our lives for this brief time on earth. We can either choose life and love, or brokenness and death. And we choose it with every decision we make, with every word and deed. Our bodies have come from the earth and will return to it, and none of us knows when. How should we live in light of the shortness of life and the great length of eternity? Reflect upon that as you receive your ashes today. God Bless.

Y.O.L.O.

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Insurmountable Faith

Jarius DaughterGospel Mk 5:21-43

“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” He went off with him and a large crowd followed him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors Woman with a hemmorrhageand had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, Who touched me?” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”  which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.”

Today’s gospel presents us with, at first glance two very different people, on opposite ends of the social ladder—Jarius, a wealthy synagogue official, a person of status, of public standing, and a person with an entourage wherever he went, on one hand, and on the other, an old woman, poor, broken, bleeding, and very much at death’s door. She could no doubt die with little fan fare. No one would even know that she was gone.

These two people while very much from different social worlds shared two things in common, the first thing they had in common was their incredible suffering; for Jarius, his sick and dying daughter—a parent’s worst nightmare to be sure, and for the old woman—bleeding that hadn’t stopped and couldn’t be stopped for twelve years! Both of them had great suffering in common, but they also had something else, an insurmountable faith in Jesus Christ, in His concern for them in their suffering, and in His power to transform their suffering and death into life and joy—they had expectant faith that made them both people of hope—and hope in the Lord never disappoints.

The Gospel today teaches us the truth that Jesus gives us hope where there seems to be no human cause for it. He spoke words of hope to the woman when he said, “Take heart, daughter your faith has made you well!” And Jesus also gave hope to a father who had just lost a beloved child, he tells the father, “Do not be afraid, just have faith,” even while others around him mocked.

In both instances we see Jesus’ personal concern for the needs of others and his readiness to heal and restore life. In Jesus we see the infinite love of God extending to each and every individual as he gives freely and wholly of himself to each person He meets—regardless of their wealth or public standing. And that is our example and model. We must ask ourselves if we too give ourselves in loving service to others? To those of wealth or public standing first or to all those in need that we meet? God does not play favorites—nor should we.

Let us always approach our Lord with confident expectation that he will hear our request and act. And let us pray also that His love for each of us and his willingness to heal and restore us, we too might in turn give ourselves wholly and unconditionally in loving service to others in need—regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what they have to offer, following in the footsteps of the Irish Christian Brothers’ founder, Blessed Edmund Rice.

By catholicevangelist