As a former youth minister, I remember how exciting Steubenville Youth Conferences were. Thousands of passionate people, on fire for God, devoting an entire weekend to worshipping the Lord and coming to know Him better. That is powerful stuff!
As a high schooler, I was a scrawny, ghost-white toothpick with very little strength but a lot of stamina. (Oh, wait . . . I'm still like that.) I loved to play sports and I certainly had the genes for it. Unfortunately, my build made it easy for the opposing team to crack me in half before the referee had any time to notice what happened. Good thing I was fast.
It's fair to say that my driving is always an adventure full of surprises, disappointments, and apologies to my passengers.
Whether you're directionally challenged like me or not, life is pretty tough to navigate. Everyone has moments where we are unsure of who we are, where we're headed, and if there is a voice that we can trust to get us there. Even prayer can be frustrating as we go through different periods where God may seem close or distant, loud or silent.
Ìâ‰âÂÌâÅÒHold on,' you're asking me, 'Are you telling me I shouldn't own anything fun?' Of course not. Music and movies help us relax, clothes help us express beauty, and smartphones keep us connected and informed (and yes, entertained). These are all good things.
My challenge is this: to look at the things that we're spending money on and ask ourselves, 'Do I really need this thing?' Do I need a new pair of shoes, or are the ones I have okay? Do I have to buy these songs or can I just listen to the radio?
In about three weeks, my wife is going to give birth to our first child. This is beautiful, overwhelming, humbling, and more than anything, exciting.
Our faith, however, is not based on hollow rituals or oppressive rules. It's based on an encounter with the person of Jesus, who changes everything. Our relationship with Christ connects us with the origin of our life and the meaning of where we are going. He desires us not to be weighed down but rather to live life to its fullest potential (John 10:10).
When He calls us to live a holy life, it's because he knows what we are capable of and is drawing our potential out of us like any good sports coach does.
The Apostles couldn't explain how Jesus rose from the dead but they still spoke the truth because they experienced His rising in person. I couldn't intellectually or scientifically prove the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (see CCC 1374) yet I proclaimed it as true because I have experienced what Jesus has done for me through the Eucharist.
This is how we can grow in holiness in everyday life. Every day gives us new opportunities for our selfish, superior part to die and for us to grow in love. Maybe we do the dishes without grumbling about it, help someone with school work even if we'd rather be doing something else, or take time to hang out with our siblings.
We’re in a time where our leaders and beliefs are under a lot of scrutiny. It’s not always a popular thing to stand up for the Gospel these days. However, it wasn’t easy to stand up for the Gospel back in the days of the Early Church, either.
It’s ironic because I think it should have been easier back then. I have to pull out scripture to show people what Jesus said and did. The Apostles just had to say “Guys, don’t you remember two weeks ago on the boat when Jesus said this and that?”
I'd probably be on my way home, too. Because, in a way, I have felt like they felt. Maybe you have, too.
We've been on the great retreats, attended the amazing youth conferences, heard the killer homilies, felt the graces of Confession, gotten into the power of the Triduum. We've heard His voice and felt His presence. Everything is working according to plan.
And then, a little time goes by . . . a couple hours, a couple days, a couple weeks. And the feelings are gone. And it feels like Jesus is gone, too.
If I want to live, there are things in me that need to die. My selfishness, my lust, my greed, my grudges, and my sin have got to go.
Each day we're faced with this choice: will I live for myself or will I lay my life down? Is my life focused on success or sacrifice?
When we walk into a church, we are confronted with the radical call to die. When we see the baptismal font, we are reminded that it's only through death that we can rise with Christ. And when we dip our fingers into the Holy Water, we trace the sign of the cross to say, 'God, drown whatever needs to be drowned in my heart. I want to live with you, so I'm willing to die like you.'
If you're on any type of social media and have an opinion about anything, you've probably experienced this. You type, 'Wendys fries are so much better than McDonald's' as a status update. You walk away from your computer and return to find World War III has broken out on your wall, with friends declaring their allegiances.
There's no room for that kind of wishy-washy-ness when it comes down to deciding where you want to spend eternity. Saying 'I do' during those baptismal promises was a powerful moment for me. It meant I was recommitting to giving my life over to my bridegoom, Jesus Christ, and His Church (Ephesians 5).
It was annoying. It was irritating. It was frustrating.
These are not major things. They are tiny, annoying things that piled up one after another. There are greater tragedies in the world, for sure, but that doesn't mean that I still didn't feel like throwing my hands up and wallowing in my own misery.
But then I remembered something.
Perhaps the toughest part of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. This Lent, I've made specific efforts to forgive myself for past wrongdoings. I've reflected on what lead me to those sins or mistakes. I've confessed them and have felt Jesus take them off of my shoulders. The freedom that comes with Jesus' forgiveness is life-changing. But we have to let it change our lives. We have to accept that He forgives us. He doesn't hold a grudge, so who are we to hold one?
I was expecting something 'more.' I mean, this was the new Pope's first homily since his election. On Wednesday the world tuned in to see our new Pope Francis. On Thursday we got to hear him preach for the first time.
We, like the Samaritan woman, continually ask God, 'Where have you been?' or 'Where were you?' when relationships or life don't go the way we planned.
The thing is God never asks us, 'Where have you been' because He knows where we've been. He knows the websites, the parties, the rooms we have entered, and the bottles we have opened to satisfy our thirst. He knows the relationships we have been in and the lines we have crossed emotionally, physically, and sexually. And yet, He sits at the wall of the well waiting for us to discover Him and accept His mercy and love.
Think about the coolest thing you've ever made and how excited you were to show it to your friends and family. You didn't find your best creation to be boring, stupid, and ugly. If you had designed the iphone 5, you'd be pretty stoked to show the whole world your handiwork.
Now imagine you had the power to create a person who could think and feel . . . and possibly love you back. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty obsessed with my person.
So often I grasp for more and more. Things are good but I want them to be better. I have so much . . . why do I always want more?
This week has taught me to slow down and receive what God is giving me, and not complain that I want more or less. He knows what I can and can't handle today. And He won't give me more than I can handle – with His grace.
You see, more isn't always better. I used to always focus on achieving, but now I want to focus on receiving. Our Lord is the Giver of all good gifts.
Instead of going into the chapel and pouring out my thoughts or trying really hard to hear Him, I'm just sitting in the silence. His calm, gentle, strong voice always comes to me if I submit to the sacred silence in the chapel.
If I can't make it to the chapel, I can sit in silence with God in my room. My reflection this week on my silent time has flowed nicely with my reflections on not speeding.
What I've learned this week is this: I don't always have to set the pace. Whether it be in the car, in the hallway, or in the chapel – I can take my time. I can slow down. I can breathe. I can listen to His heartbeat, and strive to live my life to the rhythm of that heart beat. Let God set the rhythm, and experience the freedom that it offers.