Monday, June 26, 2017

Celebrating the Gift of Life

Psalm 139:13-14 (NRSV): Celebrating the Gift of Life
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . .
My youngest son, Luke, just turned two. He is beautiful and healthy, the typical two-year-old with a bold personality and curiosity that keeps us on our toes. And it is in the moments of reflecting on his birth and life that I am reminded about the awesome power of God.
Luke was born five-and-a-half weeks early, and Dana was in the hospital for thirty-one days prior to his birth. Every day they were in the hospital, I realized that there was nothing more I could do but pray and leave them in God’s care. Their hospitalization required my surrender. Of course I did everything I could do as a father and husband, but I felt powerless. And powerlessness is a frightening feeling. Fear, however, did not win out; God’s grace did. God gave both Dana and me the grace to persevere and grow in our faith and trust in Him.
This story ends with life’s celebration: God beautifully “knit [Luke] together in [Dana’s] womb.” Our lives have truly been blessed.
Recall a time when God blessed you, and be mindful of it this week. As the week progresses, look for the many other times God presents blessings in your days. Pray for God to show you His presence in the trials and celebrations of your experience, and He will.
Have a blessed week,
Stan

Sunday, June 18, 2017

We Are One Body

1 Corinthians 10:17 (NLT): We are all United in Christ
And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.
In this part of St. Paul’s first letter to the faithful at Corinth, he chides them for their divisive behavior. They are bad-mouthing each other and eating food offered to idols; this went against what Paul (and Jesus) taught regarding love for God and neighbor. Paul gives them a plain reminder of who they are in Jesus Christ -- “one body.”
Division is easy, but unity takes sacrifice. When we put aside our differences and focus on the core of who we are as faithful, loving people, our world blooms with a peace that only God can give. Paul reminds us of this: We need to come together. We need to love each other. We need to celebrate and remember our unity in Christ.
One of the best illustrations of this unity is a recent prayer gathering I attended. As we held hands and prayed, the unity was electric. Even though we all come from diverse Christian backgrounds, we are bound by our faith in Jesus Christ and that is a beautiful thing -- “we are one body.”
Let us pray:
Eternal Father,
Look upon your people with mercy … and give us the Spirit of Jesus to make us one in love.  We ask this gift, loving Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Have a blessed week,

Stan

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Remember the Love

Philippians 4:8 (NLT): Remember the Love
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
The end of the school year is here, and as I contemplate June and what it brings, I cannot help but experience a flood of mixed feelings. The juxtaposition of wonder and sadness set the backdrop of my thoughts. But in my heart-of-hearts, when I recall the shining faces of the students I serve and the joyful presence of the people with whom I work, I feel the flood of Christ’s peace. Successes, failures, challenges, and celebrations have paved the road of life in Christ this school year. And as I prepare to share these last few days with my dear students, I thank God for His love, strength, and grace. For without Him, I can do nothing.
St. Paul writes to a dear, loving Philippian church that has given him support and encouragement, especially during the time he wrote this letter. For at the time, Paul was imprisoned. In the letter, however, especially chapter 4 where this verse is located, Paul tells the church community, “Thank you.” Professor Jouette Bassler writes that “the Philippians had heard of [Paul’s] imprisonment, and Paul wanted to reassure them of his undiminished joy -- even in those circumstances. . . He wanted to express his gratitude for their gift and for their constant friendship” (2099). Paul, also, reminds his friends to be of a loving mind -- to rejoice in the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Paul reminds us that our mindset means everything.
I pray that as we end this school year, we, too, “think about these things” and remember the love we share. Let us, with the mind and heart of Christ, recognize and celebrate where God uses us to love, forgive, support, and be an agent of His peace. And let those comforting thoughts draw us closer to the One Who is love. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, June 4, 2017

True Friendship

John 15:13 (NRSV): True Friendship
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Sometimes truth is revealed in simple ways, and simplicity is something we often ignore. This weekend, my youngest son and I sat down to watch Sesame Street, and in one of those episodes, I heard a familiar song. This time, however, the song came to life for me and resonated a beautiful truth. The dialogue leading into Bert and Ernie’s “That’s What Friends are For” goes as follows:
Ernie: It's pretty messy in there, Bert.
Bert: Well, Ernie, you're just a little messy. I've learned that. I'm used to it. Let's go to sleep.
Ernie: You know, Bert, you're a real friend. I'm messy and you don't like it messy, but because I'm your friend you don't mind too much if I'm messy.
Bert: Well, not *too* much, Ernie. Let's just go to sleep.
Ernie: But, but that's what a friend is, Bert. I mean, not minding too much because you like somebody. That's a friend, Bert, a pal! Not minding! That's what friends are for!
Bert and Ernie model something very important in human relationships -- true friendship. The line that resonates for me is Ernie’s summation of a true friend: “But, but that's what a friend is, Bert. I mean, not minding too much because you like somebody. That's a friend, Bert, a pal! Not minding!” True friendship is looking past ourselves, past our preferences, to the person we love.
Jesus teaches us that there is no greater love than to give ourselves away for the sake of loving the other person (John 15:13). This giving away of the self begins with forgetting our wants, desires, and prefered ways for the sake of the person we serve and love. To love someone means to look past their faults and into the gift they are as a human being, child of God, and friend. Giving our life away to others begins with loving them, like Bert does Ernie, regardless of their faults and flaws.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, true friendship is a gift perfectly modeled through the self-giving love of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grant, O’ loving Father, that our lives be given away in love to those we serve and that true friendship be something each of us emulates. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Have a blessed week.

Stan

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Failure Builds Compassion

Mark 14:71-72 (NRSV): Failure Builds Compassion
71 But [Peter] began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this [Jesus] you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
There are many moments in my life that are celebrations: The birth of my children, the marriage and friendship I share with my wife, the gift of spiritual conversion, my career as a teacher, and many other blessings God has been so gracious to give. But what about the times in my life of which I am not proud, the times when I have sinned and miserably failed? In relation to these failures, I often play a mental game. The scenario goes like this: I remember a time when I made a poor life choice, a choice that was not only sinful, but life altering. This poor choice, moreover, set a certain trajectory in my life. The game usually culminates in a self-posed question: If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now, would I change the way I did that? I am certain that every one of us has thought about changing our past choices with the wisdom we gained later in life. If we look at our mistakes, however, with a set of spiritual eyes, we see that God is with us during those moments of failure, picking us up and giving us the strength to move to a better place with Him.
Through the gift of free will, God permits our failures. And it is through the proper use of our failures -- repentance, contrition, and seeking forgiveness --  that we strengthen our character and become the person God has created us to be. Peter, for instance, denies Jesus three times, even after Peter expressly says earlier that he will die with Jesus rather than deny him:
30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But [Peter] said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. (Mark 14:30-31)
Peter, the earliest leader of the Christian church and chief among the disciples, miserably fails. I am always taken aback by this. If Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers and friends can commit such a serious sin against the Lord and be forgiven (see John 21:15-19), then there is hope for me. In a sermon on this passage, John Chrysostom states the following:
The reason God's plan permitted Peter to sin was because he was to be entrusted with the whole people of God, and sinlessness added to his severity might have made him unforgiving toward his brothers and sisters. He fell into sin so that remembering his own fault and the Lord's forgiveness, he also might forgive others out of love for them. (On Saints Peter and Elijah: PG 50; 727-728)
Our failures -- when reflected on with humility, contrition, and repentance -- are grafted into God’s plan for us. Through the power of His love and our cooperation, God can take our worst mistakes and make them important pillars of our character. But we have to be willing to break down and weep as Peter does in Mark 14:72. Peter’s weeping eventually brings him to the beach of Galilee, the charcoal fire, and the three-time declaration of his love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). Through grace, Peter’s failures build in him a stronger foundation of character, leadership, and mercy toward others. And through our failures, God does the same in us.
It is tempting for me to play the game, to fantasize about ”doing it over.” But when I see God’s hand in my life, picking up the pieces of my failures and building me into something I could never achieve on my own, I am amazed. At the tender age of fourteen, for instance, I was a lost cause in school -- disinterested, unmotivated, ill-prepared, and poorly-influenced. And during my freshman year, I even considered dropping out. It took a team of caring teachers, administrators, and counselors to intercede and show me that learning was achievable and fulfilling. I am glad God gave me the eyes to see this then and to be sensitive to it now as a father and teacher. It is God’s love working through those failures that has given me the foundation of who I am as a hopeful-but-flawed husband, father, teacher, and neighbor. God uses our failures as the critical building-blocks of our character.
How do you see Peter’s denial of Christ, and later reconciliation, working in and through your life? Are there moments, choices, or chapters of your life that you, too, wish you could change? Offer them up to God. Through His love He turns everything into a gift and moment of grace.
I pray, Lord, that we all see our life experiences, both good and bad, as gifts that, through Your grace, become the necessary pillars to who we are in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, May 28, 2017

My Crossroads

by Fr. Brian Massingale 
Published in U.S. Catholic Magazine

This article hit home for me. I, like Fr. Massingale's sister, am passionate about my faith and am always looking to go deeper in my relationship with Christ. And I am trying my best to cooperate with grace and be a devoted Roman Catholic. There are many moments, however, when I pause and ask the question in prayer: Why am I having such a hard time with some of the Church's teachings in the Catechism, even after conscience formation in the mind of the Church, intense study, the Sacraments, reflection, fellowship, and prayer? The answer I keep coming back to is that faith is a journey, not a destination. True discipleship is continual growth in relationship with Christ. Conversion is perpetual and develops as we keep striving to know Christ better.
My experience is one that complicates blind adherence to magisterial teaching, but I desire, remain open, and am doing my best to be what the Church calls me to be. My best, however, falls short most of the time. And when it does, I get a deep sense of frustration and guilt, attaching my understanding of being a faithful Catholic with an ideal I struggle to fully embrace. But God's love, as the Spirit has led me to discover, is so much bigger than my understanding of it. Just look at the cross. I have faith that, by God’s grace and His love through Jesus, I am an adopted son of God and brother of Jesus Christ.
I have many moments when I vacillate between either seeking Christ in another Christian context -- one rich in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience --or remaining a flawed yet “striving-for-Christian-perfection” Roman Catholic. I have read widely regarding Catholicism, Church history, the Reformation, theology, and the plurality of Protestant (and in the sense of the Episcopal Church, the via media) beliefs. And the only thing I can truly say is that God loves us warts and all (and believe me, I have many warts). For He has shown that love most perfectly through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The more I try to conform to traditional Roman Catholic teaching, the more I despise myself for not being what the Church says I should be, even though I am doing all I can to cooperate with grace. But I have been given the grace of faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and that had made the difference.

After five years of struggle and formation, seeking the sacrament of Reconciliation, practicing prayer, and trying to my best to be holy, I have reached a point where I must decide: Where can I grow most as a disciple of Jesus Christ in this world and live with who I am in Christ? I am trying my best to remain faithful to the tradition to which I felt my initial call to Christ, the Roman Catholic Church. But it is a cross to bear at times. Was our faith tradition ever meant to be a such a cross?

In the article, the author’s sister, a devout Catholic in her own right, found her place in the Body of Christ that called out to her in a way that Roman Catholicism did not. Now I do not know this woman, but something tells me she is a better disciple for it, a better imitation of Jesus’ love in the world because of it. And isn’t this the true reason Jesus came to save us -- so that we would be reconciled with God, evangelize others, and imitate His love in this world? And if she finds that in the American Baptist Church, then God bless her.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Love in Action

John 14:19-21 (NRSV): Love in Action
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
Last Tuesday, our high school hosted the Greyhound Choice Awards. For those who don’t know, this night gives teachers, staff, and administrators an opportunity to recognize loving qualities and characteristics in students who more often go unrecognized. And as I sat in that audience, I was moved by the presence of love and devotion among my colleagues. I was inspirited by the glowing faces of the students as they received their acknowledgements and awards. I was heartened, most importantly, because I knew Christ was present in every sincere face, thought, gesture, and word on that stage and in that room. The place trembled with God’s love.
In this passage from John chapter 14, Jesus reminds the disciples of His everlasting presence in them if they continue to follow His commandment to love. In John 13:34-35, the great commandment Jesus gives to his disciples is to love (the original Greek is agapao) each other without limit. It is through that highest form of active love, then, that Jesus reveals himself (21). As Jesus’ disciples today, we, too, are all called to give pieces of ourselves away to others: We are called to agapao others. And when we do this, we make Jesus visible in the world.
I witnessed this love, the visible presence of God, Tuesday night on stage and in that room. People got up and gave a piece of their hearts away to each child they honored. Their active love was made tangible in the fondness of their faces, the sincerity of their voices, and the tranquility of their tears. And the students, in turn, reciprocated that love through their joy and thanksgiving.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, a disciple who constantly gave herself away to the poor, said, "If you do your work with joy, you can bring many souls to God. Joy is prayer, a sign of our generosity, evident in our eyes, our faces, our actions." Our joy, our prayer, our generosity, and our actions are God’s gifts to us. Let us joyfully share our gifts through active love -- offer a smile to a stranger, say hello to someone new, write a letter to a distant friend, tell someone close “I love you,” perform a random act of kindness for someone, pray for a person who needs prayer.
I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we all live in the loving light of Jesus Christ and look for the moments in our day when we, too, can offer small acts of self-giving love.
Have a blessed week.

Stan

Monday, May 15, 2017

Proclaiming Mighty Acts of Love

1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV): Proclaiming Mighty Acts of Love
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Peter’s letter is universal, so its message applies to all Christian communities spread throughout the first-century world. The letter, then, even applies to us today. Peter calls us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” and this can be intimidating. After defining our status as “chosen,” Peter further directs our actions: We are to live out this “royal priesthood” by “[proclaiming] the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This can be a daunting task for the “average Joe” like me, but God lovingly gives us His grace to accomplish it.
God gives us the free gift of His grace. And it is by this free, unmerited gift that we are able to express devotion and love toward God and charity and mercy toward others. Our Christian task, according to several places throughout Scripture, is to take God’s grace and apply it in our lives through acts of love. Jesus calls us to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Naturally, then, the things from which God’s grace flows should stem from our love for God and neighbor. What are these means of grace, then?
John Wesley, an eighteenth-century theologian and minister, once wrote a sermon about the means of grace. In that sermon he both defines and separates them into two categories: works of piety and works of mercy. According to this theological concept, the means of grace are ways God works in and through us. Wesley states that works of piety can be expressed through prayer, Sunday worship, studying Scripture, and partaking in the sacraments. Works of mercy, on the other hand, can be applied by visiting the sick and imprisoned, serving the needs of the poor, seeking justice, and ending oppression. This list is in no way limited, and most Christian traditions agree that both works of mercy and piety are ways we connect with and express our love toward God and others.
Peter says that we are to “proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Those acts come through God’s free gift of grace and our faith in Jesus Christ; there is nothing we can do to create them. In this, we (even a hesitant sinner like me) are equipped to to love others with the heart of Christ. Through our faith and baptism, the Holy Spirit lives in us and wants to “proclaim mighty acts” of love through us. Let us reach out together -- now, today, this week -- channeling the love of God to the next person we meet.
May God’s peace, blessing, love, and grace permeate our being in all we do. In Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.  
Have a blessed week!
Stan


P.S.
For an excellent three-minute video on the means of grace, which helped inspire this devotion, please click following link: https://goo.gl/8Qx5NY.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Faith’s Reassurance

Psalm 23: 3-4 (NRSV): Faith’s Reassurance
3 [The Lord] leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for [the Lord is] with me;
There are times when I don’t know the path or will of God in my life. And it is during these times that I am presented with two options: I can either despair and stress out about it, or I can pray putting my faith and trust in Christ.
This Davidic psalm captures the essence of every spiritual struggle I have ever had, and believe me the struggles don’t go away. But knowing that God has given me these words to recall -- “[The Lord] leads me in right paths / for his name’s sake” (3) -- I find comfort and assurance in God’s plan. Even in the darkest valley of life, David writes, God is present, protects, and provides. Evil rears its ugly head in our struggles, and that can feel threatening. We must have faith, however, and “fear no evil” (4) because God is with each of us.
St. Paul writes that when we love God, everything we experience works for our good -- even our uncertainties, struggles, and failures. God’s purpose, Paul implies, is something we often cannot see in real time (Romans 8:28). Through God’s grace, our faith, and our baptism, we belong to Jesus Christ. And in that belonging, God leads us “in right paths” (3), even when the world and our folly threaten and blind us.
I pray that the Holy Spirit give us true faith and trust in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And in that gift of faith and trust, I pray that we reach out to others in authentic love, knowing that there is nothing to fret or fear because God is with us and leads the way. May the Spirit of Christ rest in our hearts.
Have a blessed week.
Stan

Monday, May 1, 2017

God's Extraordinary Love

John 21:15, 19b (NLT): God's Extraordinary Love
15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these [other disciples do]?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
19 . . . . Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
Throughout the gospels, Peter, leader among the disciples, makes repetitive mistakes. He even denies Jesus three times during the Passion. But God is all loving and forgiving. In the Scripture above, we notice how Jesus lives out this love by prompting Peter to reconcile -- not once, but three times: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Jesus knows our humanity. Not only did he create us, but he is one of us -- all God and all man. None of us is beyond forgiveness. Whenever I need a reminder of this, I recall Peter’s personality and actions. He was often confused, thick-headed, stubborn, and quick to judge -- everything I am (just ask Dana). But Jesus picked him to lead the early church. There is always hope, friends.
Through the discouraging haze of our mistakes, it is easy to lose focus and forget the extraordinary love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus reminds us, however, as he does Peter, that we are to turn away from our mistaken path and turn toward him. And in our facing Jesus, we are met with love, forgiveness, and and a call to follow him.
I pray that each of us answer as Peter does -- “Yes, Lord, ...you know I love you” (21:15). May we answer the call to follow Christ in our daily mission to serve and give ourselves away to others. Amen.
Have a blessed week.
Stan

Monday, April 24, 2017

Why We Should Seek Christ Among Us

Mark 6:2-6 (NRSV): Welcoming Christ Among Us
2 On the sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Jesus and his disciples return to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. This return happens directly after Jesus performs many miracles. Just previous to this passage, for instance, Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43). The people in Jesus’ hometown would have heard of these miracles, and as he preaches in the synagogue, they are “astounded” by his “wisdom” and “deeds of power” (6:2). But something is amiss among the residents of Jesus’ hometown. They cannot see past their prejudices. They say, “‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him” (6:3). The people of Nazareth see Jesus as the poor, common carpenter from down the block. How can he, their response implies, be a prophet or the Messiah? The people in town were preoccupied with where Jesus came from rather than who he has the potential to be.
Harboring preconceived ideas about someone can cloud our ability to see who they truly are and stymie an individual’s promise. Our faith in the potential of a person is often blinded by our prejudices. Prejudicial thinking, moreover, breeds xenophobia, exclusionism, and marginalization. Wasn’t Jesus marginalized, seen as an outsider, and rejected by the establishment?
Upon self-examination, it is easy to see that we, too, can fall prey to this way of thinking. Would we, then, have pigeon-holed Jesus because of his upbringing? Mark writes that Jesus could “do no deed of power there” (6:5) because of people’s lack of faith. When we believe, however, that a person is capable of rising above their circumstances, we offer them the faith and loving hope they deserve.
O Most Loving God, I pray that our minds and hearts be open to the potential of all people, no matter their circumstances or past. Kindly grant each of us, O Lord, the grace to welcome Jesus Christ among us. For it is in his name we pray, Amen.

Have a blessed week.
Stan

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why Looking with our Hearts Matters

Luke 24:30-32 (GNT): Recognizing the Risen Christ
29 But they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Wasn't it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
In the post-Resurrection “Road to Emmaus” narrative, Luke depicts two disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus. They meet him on Easter Sunday walking along the road to a village called Emmaus. And although Luke tells the listener it is Jesus, the two disciples, however, do not recognize him right away. It is not until Christ discusses the Hebrew Scriptures, is invited in, and, finally, breaks bread with them that they “see” him. Luke narrates, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. . . “ (24:31). And it is this recognition of Christ among us that is a challenge in today’s world of scepticism and doubt.
Every time we read and study Scripture, love our neighbor, and celebrate the Eucharist, we encounter Jesus. But why don’t we see him? Why doesn’t Jesus appear to us as he does the disciples along that road long ago? The answer, however, is a matter of how we see: Are we looking for Jesus with our hearts, sensing that “fire burning in us” (24:31) that the two disciples witness? Or are we merely looking with a set of eyes shaped an marred by the modern world?
This past week I saw Christ present in an expression of neighborly love. Upon finishing up my day, I was seated at the computer inputting some grades. The day was warm, about 78 degrees, my window was open, and it was a picture-perfect day. As the sound of laughter entered my room through the open window, I spied the Social Club outside tossing footballs, baseballs, and frisbees. The bursts of chortles and the unsteady pat-thump of excited footfalls were too much for me to ignore. Their joy opened my eyes.
For those who are not familiar, the Social Club is an afterschool activity that serves some of the most compassionate kids in our high school. All who participate benefit from the positive interaction of mentorship and friendship. The Social Club allows students to spend time with and be a friend to others. It is a school club, but I also see it as a ministry. And I am always moved by the students I see laughing, interacting, self-giving, and loving one another. It is through these students’ smiling faces, uncontrollable laughter, and commitment to each other that I witness the presence of Jesus among us. Christ is alive in the love of neighbor.
As some of us enjoy a few days off from the busyness of work, let us look around with the eyes of our hearts. For it is in that authentic looking that we see the resurrected Jesus among us. And when we do, our hearts, too, will feel “like a fire burning in us” with the loving presence of God in our midst.
Have blessed Easter!

Stan

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why we Should Meditate on Jesus’ Model of Prayer

Matthew 26:38-39, 27:46 (CEB): Jesus’ Model of Prayer
38 Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
46  At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
Although sometimes solemn, Holy Week contains its own joy. We celebrate the joy of Jesus’ faith, resilience, and love for humanity in the face of incomprehensible human suffering. He takes our iniquities with him to the cross, dying so that we may live, emptying himself so that we might be filled. And Jesus does this not with ease because he is God. Jesus, rather, embraces the sufferings of his humanity by experiencing sadness, reluctance, and abandonment.
While in Gethsemane, Jesus experiences the pain of sadness. He knows that the cross looms in the distance, and his prayer reflects this: “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying . . .’” (26:38). How can God Incarnate feel the same troubling emotions as us? Jesus is as human as he is divine. Sadness, then, is a feeling that we all experience, and Jesus does, too. He wants his faithful to know that he suffers as we do. Therefore, when we are grieved by our own personal struggles, we should turn to Christ, knowing that he understands firsthand the pain of sadness and grief. And by meditating on Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane, we can identify with his pain and sadness, a common human struggle that he willingly took on for each of us.   
Sadness is one thing, but God being reluctant to face death is another. Jesus, lying prostrate, prays, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want” (26:39). Scripture clearly indicates that Jesus prefers to let “this cup of suffering” pass. This cup, of course, represents the humiliation and pain of Christ’s Passion and death. Jesus, like us, is reluctant to suffer and die. But he seeks to serve the Father’s will, not his human will. How do we handle our own sufferings in life? Do we remove our own cup or, like Jesus, empty ourselves to God’s will? Jesus’ reluctance ends with his obedience.
Jesus also expresses abandonment. Moments before his death, Jesus prays the opening line from a Davidic prayer, Psalm 22, and it is a question he poses to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” How many times do we feel that God is silent to our pleas? Whether a simple or profound petition, when our prayers are not answered, we, too, feel a sense of abandonment. And this shakes our faith. But Christ’s unshakable faith is our model. As Jesus cries out to the Father “Why?” he faithfully holds firm to his purpose and offers up his life for the sins of the world.
I pray that as we proceed through this Holy Week, we meditate on those difficult moments in Jesus’ prayer. And in that meditation, I pray that Jesus’ model of self-emptying love fortify our faith, uphold our hope, and deepen our devoted love toward God and neighbor.

Have a blessed Holy Week.
Stan

Sunday, April 2, 2017

On the Obedient, Humble Love of Jesus

Philippians 2: 4-8 (NRSV): Obedient, Humble Love
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Being a follower of Christ in today’s world is no easy task. And if it were not for God’s grace we would all be lost, trying to earn our own salvation in a world of immediacy and instant results. Paul, however, in his joy-filled letter to the church at Philippi, provides a formula of love and humility for Christ’s followers and answers the all-important question: How can we be more like Jesus in this world?
Jesus Christ did “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [he regarded] others as better than [himself]” (2:3). The gospels are peppered with examples of Christ’s putting others first: We see a beautiful example of Christ’s humility in John 13:4-17. Here Jesus takes on the lowest job given to slaves, washing the feet of others. When his disciples question this humble action, Jesus answers, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Being like Jesus means prioritizing the needs of others. Paul says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:4). It is too easy for us to “look out for number one” in this competitive world, sacrificing the needs of others for our own wants. Jesus, in his life on earth, lived for the sake of others, for everything he did exemplified his love for us.
Being like Christ also includes an attitude adjustment. Paul, moreover, reminds us that we, too, are to have “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). This means that Christ, although he had God’s nature, did not equate his earthly life with that of God (2:6). Instead, Jesus chose to live in poverty, taking on “the form of a slave,” a struggling human being who experienced both emotional and physical pain (2:7). Jesus chose to be born in a cold cave among animals, and he chose the course hay of a feeding trough as his crib (Luke 2:7). Jesus, as is discussed in more detail below, obediently chose the cross. Jesus, too, experienced deep emotional sadness at the death of his close friend Lazarus of Bethany, for the sacred writer states that upon witnessing the sadness of Lazarus’ death, ”[Jesus] was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. . . and Jesus began to weep” (John 11:33, 36).
Finally, Paul reminds us of Christ’s ultimate work of humility and love -- his sacred flesh offered on the cross for all: “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (2:8). Jesus willingly gave up his human life, and that we know he was all human and all God proves Christ’s Passion was an excruciating human experience. On the cross Jesus felt extreme physical pain as his hands and feet were pinioned with iron nails. Historically accurate accounts of crucifixion point to the crucified dying of asphyxiation as they struggled to push themselves up by pierced feet to catch a short breath only to fall again into a position that did not allow for inhalation. Eventually, physical weakness (or Roman guards breaking the legs of the criminals) would restrict this movement and the crucified would slowly die of suffocation. Jesus felt emotional pain and abandonment on the cross, too. His last words suggest this emotional struggle as he recited Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (1).
Jesus’ obedience and humility are insurmountable, so how can we ever compare? If our goal is to be more like Christ, how can we when his example is perfect? These are fair questions to consider. Our lives, though, are not in competition with the Incarnation of God. Jesus’ example, instead, is a living reminder, a call, to be ambassadors of his love in this world. When we look at Paul’s beautiful hymn to Christ, we reflect on the areas of our lives that need tweaking, the areas that need to embody more love toward others and less judgment, more giving and less taking. Jesus’ perfect example of love, obedience, and humility points us toward conversion. And if we are sincere, asking God to come into our lives, we, too, can effect positive change in our world by loving each person we meet in some small way, even if it is only in the form of a simple smile. For St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
I pray that our “simple smiles” be the genesis of Christ’s love reflected in our world and that each person we meet is changed by the light of Christ in each of us. Amen.
Have a blessed week.