All summer, my prayer was wrapped around the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United.
The beautifully simple lyrics entranced me. I wanted to have the faith to keep my eyes above the waves wherever God would call me, to keep my eyes above the waves of life, to stand firm in oceans deep. It all sounded so beautiful and clear and simple: keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of everything, the good and bad.
And so I would pray the song over and over again, telling Jesus to put me in the ocean of His grace, to lead me into deep waters. I had no idea what I was asking for.
I grew up in the midwest, thousands of miles away from any coast, gulf, or peninsula. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have been to the ocean. And even then, when I would go to the ocean, it seemed picture perfect. The sands were white, the water was clear and calm, and there was usually a sun setting in the sky.
Now that I live in Houston, the ocean is much closer, and my mission team made a day trip to the ocean last month. I expected another tranquil day in the water. That’s not what I got.
From the first moment I walked into the ocean, I could feel resistance from the tide. The waves were overpowering and big, and they just kept on rolling in. Waist deep in saltwater, I was having trouble staying on my feet when a wave would push past me. By the time the water was at my shoulders, my head had actually been pushed down underwater, and it took all I had to not be pushed towards shore. I couldn’t even keep my eyes above the waves.
Then the lyrics from “Oceans” came into my head. I had been praying for this all summer. I had asked Christ to lead me to the depths of the ocean, through the waves, and I had promised to keep my eyes above them and continue walking towards Him. All the sudden, I was faced with the reality of the struggle of what I had prayed for.
Yes, I had felt the power of the waves; yes, I had felt my feet falter in the ocean, and I didn’t keep my eyes above the waves. Even more, though, I had been reminded of the risk of following Christ.
To follow Jesus with my whole life means going to the great unknown, walking into an ocean that is bigger than me. Following Christ means that I cannot expect an easy way or peaceful waters. I will struggle to stay grounded, to keep my eyes on Christ in the midst of the unknown and the trials that knock me off my feet.
But like the song says, God’s grace abounds in deepest waters.He has never failed, and He won’t start now. In the face of the waves and the water, our faith will be made stronger in the presence of God, who is our Savior.
I invite you to pray with this song today and to ask the Lord for the grace to stay committed to Him through whatever you feel like you may be drowning in today.
The other night, the psalm response for daily Mass was “Lord, you are merciful and gracious” (Psalm 86). I’ve heard about His mercy and grace my whole life, but last night I had a revelation. It wasn’t expected, and it didn’t hit me like roaring thunder. It was more like a whisper, and truth settled in my soul, gently, yet firmly.
He is full of mercy. He is full of grace. He is merciful; He is patient on an infinite scale. Too often I feel that my faith should be perfect, unwavering, without any bit of doubt or feeling shaken.
I’ve come to realize that on this side of heaven, although I truly desire with every part of me to love and trust Him perfectly, the reality is that I will fall short. There will be times of struggle. There will be times of intense aridity that can make doubt a heavy and almost crushing load. That, in a way, is inevitable in this world, in this season of life.
But what I think was revealed in my heart yesterday is that God knows I will fall short. He knows my faith will not always be strong. God knows my trust in Him will at times fail. He knows all that. It’s not news to Him. He knew all of that before I even came into this world, but what I know now with greater assurance and conviction is that He is merciful. I think He looks at my faithfulness. I think He cares much more that I chose to love Him and follow Him, even if my head and my heart at times seem to feel anything but certain. He is merciful because He knows – He knows me.
There is peace resting in His mercy and grace.
In his book, Faith & Doubt, John Ortbergh refers to G.K. Chesterton’s final chapter in Orthodoxy. He sets it up by giving an example. Imagine you have a 5 year-old daughter. She becomes very sick and needs to have surgery. You don’t know what is wrong, but you are worried and fearful that she might die. Remember all you know is that she is really sick and the doctor told you she needs surgery. The doctor approaches you and explains your daughter needs to have her tonsils taken out, a very routine procedure and she will be fine. You are relieved and joyful. You proceed to enter your child’s hospital room and attempt to reassure her that everything will be ok. But your child is terrified; she is nervous and does not yet understand.
“So you cannot let her see the lightness of your heart. You can’t joke around. You can’t laugh. She would think you didn’t care. You must take her fear seriously. You must let her know empathy. But every once in a while you have to leave her sickroom. You have to be able to laugh. You know all will be well. What if the human condition is something like this?… What if all things are going to be well? What if Jesus knew? Really knew? Then everything would have looked different to him. God would be the parent and we would be the 5 year-old in the sickroom. And God would have to accommodate himself to us; he would have to knit his brow, nod his head and take our fear seriously. But every once in a while God would have to excuse himself just to go outside and laugh.”
This example sets up the G.K. Chesterton excerpt well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes:
“Joy which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian… The Stoics ancient and modern, were proud of conceiling their tears. He [Jesus] never concealed his tears, he showed them plainly on his open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of his native city. Yet he concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of hell. Yet he restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that he hid from all men when he went up the mountain to pray. There was something covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked on earth; I have sometimes fancied it was his mirth.”
Can you imagine? His mirth. Wow. So, my heavenly Father knows. He knows everything so well, and He is merciful and gracious. And He laughs. Not a condescending or careless laughter. He laughs because He knows that all will be well. What blessed assurance! He tenderly acknowledges my fears and insecurities, but He can be joyful because He is fearless and absolutely secure.
In this life, I may stumble and at times fall. I might feel shaken. I might have days that I thoroughly understand that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I might have days were certainty is hard to come by. But that is ok because He is full of mercy, because He is full of limitless grace. He calls me and asks me to strive for perfection, but He does not say that I will not have trouble or trials. When those come my way, I have the choice, even if I feel all kinds of frailty, to follow Him. I can chose, even if I’m burdened with doubt, to trust Him. He can take my feeble attempt at following Him and loving Him with all my might, and He can make it good. He can transform my fragile faith into unwavering conviction. A priest recently told me that here on earth, we are never going to love or trust God enough. We don’t have the ability to love and trust Him as He deserves, due to our fallen nature. But get this: that is ok. He knows all about our fallen nature. I think He delights in our efforts, even if we stumble.
“All her people groan,
searching for bread,
They give their precious things for food,
to retain the breath of life.
‘Look, O Lord, and pay attention
to how I have been demeaned!
Come, all who pass by the way,
pay attention and see:
Is there any pain like my pain,
which has been ruthlessly inflicted upon me,
With which the Lord has tormented me
on the day of his blazing wrath.’ “ - Lamentations 1:11-17
This seems to me to be an interior cry for help. It is no coincidence that the blame for their hunger and affliction is placed on the Lord. Has this not been true since the fall? Don’t we always place the blame on others before asking if it is our own fault?
We are tricked once again, as in the garden, to believe the enemy when He makes us question what God has already asked of us. “Did God really say ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). He tells us that the Word of God is not true. We blame our condition on God when it is us who have caused it.
It is easy to look at the pain of this world and blame God. This is exactly what Satan wants us to do, but faith turns the other cheek to blame and says, “Rather than blame, I will be a part of the solution.” Faith responds to God with, “I will be an active member of the body of Christ.”
This is exactly why a true disciple of Christ must remain in the Lord (John 15:4). Personally, I am in a great state of consolation. Everything seems to be working out. I feel connected to the Lord; I am happy even in the midst of some trials. But this is why prayer is so important: so I don’t get lost in my own time of happiness and forget my call to reach out to those in need.
I came across the above scripture verse in prayer recently and realized how common it is to blame God or others for our situations. We all know, and have seen from experience, that blaming others leaves us chained in our pain and suffering. Rather, looking to Christ frees us. Since Jesus Christ suffered, He gives our suffering meaning (Hebrews 5:14-15).
When there is unrest in our world, when there are natural disasters that bring pain and mourning to families, when relatives are dying of cancer, when our whole world seems to be falling apart… When trials and tribulations are placed before us, let us give no second thought to blaming God. Let us rather recognize our call to be a part of the body of Christ in bringing healing and love to the world.
“…Pay attention and see: is there any pain like my pain, which has been ruthlessly inflicted upon me, with which the Lord has tormented me on the day of his blazing wrath” (Lamentations).
Our response to this cry: an extended hand, a generous heart, and the proclamation, “God is love and He is here to rescue you.”
I had a dream a few nights ago that was so vivid and terrifying it ingrained itself in my heart and it breaks because of it. In this dream I was looking at this screen of a computer and I could see people from all over watching the same thing. On screen people, men and women were changing themselves surgically, mutilating themselves in the name of pleasure and self desire. No one seemed to be disgusted or care about their well being, they all looked awful almost demonic in a way. It didn’t stop there; it went into pornographic scenes of their own standard of physical “love” to them. They used spears, axes, sledge hammers slicing people open, bashing each other with blood everywhere in the name of pleasure. It was sick and twisted. It seemed like that out of everyone who watched I was the only one appalled at what I saw before my eyes. Everyone else seemed to be pleasured by it thinking that it seemed normal. I’ve thought of 2 things from this experience.
First, everyone seemed to think this was ok. Morals seem to not matter anymore. That its all about what makes you feel good. The most profitable business in the world is all about stealing souls, period. More and more young men and women get addicted. More than 90% of men under the age of 18 have been exposed. What has happened to our world, where our computers deal us this drug that is so harmful it distorts our image of the world. Chains of sin and addiction bringing us back and back again for more. In my dream it was how ugly they made themselves, how it looked to be torturous. That’s what it does. It tortures our soul. Binds it in chains leaving it helpless to watch the calamity and disaster inside that turns us into a monster.
Pornography and masturbation has become so mainstream now a days that it doesn’t feel like it’s wrong anymore in schools, locker rooms, or out with your buddies. It may seem harmless and since everyone else is doing it, it can’t be bad… wrong. Just because others are doing it doesn’t make it right, it just means there’s more people messing up. With open eyes we see the truth, the ONE TRUTH in our Lord Jesus Christ, where is no room for relative truth. Even if it may seem harmless, it tears our souls, tortures, beats, and leaves it for dead.
Second is the damage. I talked a little bit about the pain I saw from the self mutilation but then nothing like the cruelty I saw in the second half with hammers and spears, things that are weapons of war. That’s what this is truly about; it IS a war, a war over your soul. When we become selfish and fall to those selfish desires we lose that battle, but we cannot afford to lose the war, to lose ourselves. When we engage in sexual activities part of our soul is brought to the others. It is meant to be a beautiful thing. I really encourage you to check out theology of the body to learn more. It’s meant to be extremely intimate and special, but when we switch to another person and another just going around, it is tearing that soul, shoving spears inside it, bashing it with hammers, killing our soul. If we have done this and we try to move on and settle down to change, how much of our soul is left for that one we truly want to be with? We must guard our hearts against this whether its sex, pornography, lust or how we view the opposite gender. For it says in proverbs “With closest custody, guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Our life springs up from our hearts, our souls. Porn, sex, masturbation, lust attacks our heart, soul and therefore our life, which results in losing life. So with the blinders up we see 2 beautiful people having casual sex with tons of people for pleasure and enjoyment. When our eyes are opened we see torture, ruined souls lying in a pool of blood being pulled away by the Evil one.
Satan is tricky, very smooth, sly, and deceiving. Able to make the most profitable business in the world destroy our sexuality and future sexual life. Destroy our souls and self esteem and win the battle. The great thing is that the war is not over. Satan doesn’t have to win. Stand up; each temptation we face is a chance to say “yes” to God. Say yes and win for the kingdom.. It’s a long hard road and it won’t be easy but dang will it be worth it. Romans 8:18 says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us”. With that keep faithful, and rely on Christ. Fight for purity, yours, your brothers, and your sisters. For that was the reality of sin. I love you and I’m praying for you.
This year during the first few weeks I was a missionary, I begged the Lord to give me a spirit of courage. Well when you ask for something the Lord will deliver, even in ways that you never thought imaginable.
Throughout most of college I wouldn’t call myself a wimp. I was the person people called when there was a spider crawling within 100 feet of their body. I’m the person who would walk through the dark of the night to find a lost friend even if that meant almost getting eaten by a deer. (That’s a story for another time.) My roommates would refer to me as “the brave one” or would often call me “fearless.”
I think it’s possible to be fearless but not courageous. That idea of being fearless but not courageous was brought to the light when I began this mission year.
On our Sabbath this past week I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but one of my sisters had this incredible idea to go hike at Tallulah Gorge. Normally I wouldn’t choose to go on a hike, especially on a day of rest. But, it was a beautiful day and I wasn’t sure when I would have this opportunity again so I took it.
The hike started out great, we literally walked down 500 steps. Then the scary part came. We had to cross over these HUGE boulders with water below us. Now the water wasn’t moving any faster than say the way water would come out of a garden hose but for some reason I became completely paralyzed and my hands and legs were shaking.
I wouldn’t take that first step of faith even though my sisters were lovingly encouraging me along. Eventually, after a lot of convincing, I took the first step. After that first step I wasn’t afraid!
This is the same thing with my faith life. If I just take that one leap of faith, then I know the Lord will swoop in and take away all my fear. I have been lacking courage in my prayer life, in my desire to be vulnerable in community, and most opportunities the Lord is calling me to grow in. As I continue to pray through John 14:27 which says, “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful,” I beg for you to pray for me as I continue to wrestle with this verse in my prayer.
My prayer is to be more courageous in each area that the Lord is calling me to dive deeper into.
While helping with a bonfire, I was asked a pretty deep question. Usually when faced with something so deep, I change the subject as fast as the question was asked. That night I couldn’t. That night I was put on the spot. I had to answer. That night I had to rise up and answer the way a missionary of the Catholic Church would answer. That night I called upon the Holy Spirit to give me the words to answer. All the formation, all the time I spent learning, serving, praying was preparing me for this one question: “Who is God?” I opened my mouth and in three words strengthened my passion for Christ and my faith. Three words each one syllable long, “I don’t know.”
All that set up for a stinking, “I don’t know.” The beauty of writing is that I can clearly say what I need to say. Speaking and gathering my thoughts quickly is not my forte. It is pretty difficult for me. So when someone asks me a question like, “Who is God?” I need time to think. I went home that night shaken. I walked back to my room questioning. I spent a few hours that night reflecting, treeing to come up with an answer. Not just for that person at the bonfire, but also for me. The next morning going into holy hour, sitting in front of the Holy Eucharist, my answer became clear.
Now, I’m not a theologian. I studied manufacturing in college, but this is what I came up with: God is a mystery. God is everything that is good in this world. God the Father is my father. He is my creator. He is my friend, my family. God’s presence can be felt by way of the Holy Spirit. God’s invisible hand is gently showing me the way, letting me make mistakes, but always showing me the path to Him. God showers us with gifts every day in the form of graces. He constantly challenges us to grow as much as we need to. If you’re saying to me, “Danley, I can’t see God,” just look at the people around you. He is in each one of them. God talks to you through them. Need even more proof? Go to any Catholic Church. There is a crucifix. On it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, part of the Trinity. The only person in our history to die for our salvation, without any other motive but to save our souls. Need more proof? In that same Church you will find His very body in a tabernacle. There are plenty of stories of bread and wine actually turning into flesh and blood.
This list isn’t the end all be all for the question, “Who is God?” It isn’t the most comprehensive list either. All I know is that in my heart God is real. He is here. In end that really is all that matters.
The next time someone challenges you in your faith, embrace that challenge. Look at it as an opportunity to grow and to dive deeper into your faith and your relationship with God. Take a minute today to ask yourself who God is in your life and to remember what He has done for you.
Part of the mission for our first year as Life Teen missionaries can be very difficult. Almost every Friday, different parishes of teens arrive at Camp Covecrest (our home for Life Teen Missions year one) to go on retreat with their respective youth groups. Our mission is to Lead Teens Closer to Christ. Christ basically brings teens to us in order for us to lead them to Him. How much easier can it get?!? We don’t even have to leave home. The mission comes to us. So Mark… if the mission comes to you, why do you say it’s so difficult?
One of the hardest parts of this “style” of mission is not seeing the fruit of my labor. I spend a weekend eating meals with teens, getting to know them, sharing my testimony, talking to them about their relationship with God, pouring out as much love as my imperfect, sinful self is able, and then on Sunday, they pack up and go home, and I have no idea whether they left with a new desire for God in their heart or whether they are going back to real life with nothing gained.
It is so hard to keep doing what you’re doing if you don’t see what good is coming from it! Imagine cooking dinner for a family. If you never taste the meal yourself and you never see the reactions of the family or get feedback on your work, you would always wonder, “Did it taste good? Did it satisfy?” If you’ve worked in youth ministry, you can relate too. Sometimes you pour everything you’ve got into a talk or a small group or a retreat, and while you may see some fruit of your labor, you’re still left to wonder, “Am I really making a difference?”
Or if you’re a teen, you can relate. School is good at letting you see the fruit of your work. You get grades. Sometimes you wished you didn’t have to deal with the fruit because sometimes it tastes rotten (no one likes an F), but at least you know what good (or bad) is coming from your work. How about when you’re praying for someone else in intercession and you never know if your prayer was answered? Isn’t it hard to keep praying when you’re not sure your prayers are doing anything?
Here’s where it all comes together. We are a people of the Resurrection. Our salvation comes from the fact that Jesus not only died for our sins but rose so that we too may rise with Him. I bet that when Peter and John ran to the tomb on Resurrection day (John 20:3-9), they were a little thrown off. Even though Jesus told them He would rise, scripture says, “They did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).
Actually… I bet they were doubting the fruit of all their beliefs. They spent all of their time following Jesus in every way they could, and then He dies. Jesus leaves them with no fruit of their entire ministry for three whole days. They bite their nails as they await some sign that they’re on the right track. Then He rises from the dead and all they get is an empty tomb!
Sometimes in our lives it seems like all we have is an empty tomb. The evidence of Christ moving and living with us doesn’t seem that exciting. But if we stop for just a second, we can realize that the lack of fruit is a sign that Jesus will soon appear and show us what we need to believe. In scripture, He shows the Apostles His wounds and they believe. In our lives, He will show us what we need to believe.
So it’s time for a gut-check: what does it take for us to believe? Are we like Thomas who needed to not only see, but actually feel the wounds of Christ, or will we choose to believe even when we don’t see the fruit of our labor?
Okay, we’ve heard this before, right? “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time” is the age-old answer. It is this rather worn out illustration, though, that has been my view of Life Teen Mission –Germany. This coming Wednesday will mark only our first month in Germany, yet I find myself already looking for some fruit to come from our efforts so far. Is it too early to look for results? Maybe, if I am looking for the German people to repent like the biblical Ninevites did when Jonah finally made his way to that troubled city, as told in the book of Jonah. (It’s a good, short read by the way. Check it out!) What is important is to keep my eyes and ears open to the little things, the small changes.
We have heard, and in some ways already experienced, that Germany is a very tough mission field. The Life Teen missionaries who served here before us have done so much to prepare the soil. Yet, the fact is that the Christian faith is definitely on the back burner here, and the people, especially the teens, are not eager to discuss their faith or even talk about more than just the superficial topics. Mission work here is indeed a little like eating an elephant. But when we can find an opening, when we can enter into conversations with the people around us, we invite them to share with us in the good news of God’s love and mercy. We invite them into prayer and back to Mass and the Eucharist. We open for them the possibility of a deeper relationship with God.
In the meantime, we try our best to live the Gospel, to attend daily Mass, and to stick to our prayer routine. We open our home to the community so that we can build up our community here. This is how we do God’s work, and in doing it, we know the fruit will come, a little at a time. Maybe a teen whom we invited will come to Mass, or a mom we talked with will sign her daughter up for summer camp. God will surely give us little signs like this to let us know that we are making progress. He is always here to help us get through the tough times and to share with us in the good times. So, when we are faced with the huge task of eating an elephant, God sends us a little ketchup, or maybe hot sauce, to make it taste better.
Turning off my cell phone was difficult. So was not listening to music, not having conversations (except 1 hour a day with a spiritual director), internet, and everything for eight days . . . but it was so worth it because I was able to pray in a way I never have before. I asked God more questions than I ever have in my life. And I heard him speak in the silence of my heart during my eight-day silent retreat.
The first few days of the retreat, the silence hurt because I was forced to think about and work through areas of my life that I was avoiding. I was fighting to hold on to worldly things. I desired good food, comfort, and having control of my future – if I gave God complete control He could take me places I have never been before and I didn’t know if I wanted to go there. “I could end up alone,” I thought.
However to my surprise, once I really entered into the silence, I didn’t feel alone at all because I knew that God was with me. Together, God and I went on bike rides around lakes and up mountains. We hiked together and joked with each other. At times He scolded me gently, I asked for forgiveness and He loved me in a way I have never been loved before. I felt beautiful, free, and even cute hanging out with Jesus.
During one of my holy hours on the fourth day I had a profound realization that I will never forget. As I meditated on Jesus healing the paralytic in the Gospel of Luke 5:17-26, I vividly pictured the entire scene as if I were really there. I placed myself in the scene as the paralytic in need of healing.
As I imagined my friends and family lowering me through the roof and placing me before Jesus, I offered Jesus all my sins, all my fears, and all my struggles that “paralyze” me. After going through a long list of sins in my mind, I moved to the next line in the passage.
What came next surprised me. It read, “You Are Forgiven.” I immediately questioned God, “Really? For all those things I’m forgiven?” I felt unworthy to be forgiven of everything I had done. Even though I have gone to confession many times and knew in my head that I was forgiven, I didn’t believe it in my heart.
Still questioning, I kept reading, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”(v.23-24).
Then it hit me.
How could I have so little faith? Of course I am forgiven – that’s what Jesus came to this earth to do – duh Annie. He came to free us from sin and nothing is too big for God. Of course He wants to forgive me no matter how long my list of sins is or how many times I have failed to follow God. Immediately, the shame of my sin fell away and peace, freedom, and overwhelming joy filled me. The feeling of extreme freedom I felt was probably similar to the way the paralytic felt in the gospel.
God’s word is so alive and relevant even 2000 years later. Continuing the meditation, I read the last line of the passage, “He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God.”
If I really believe I am healed, I thought, I should do the same thing. So I got up from my seat in the chapel and went home praising and thanking God for forgiving me.
I invite you to bring it all to Jesus, surrender it all – he’ll take you places you’ve never been before – its amazing.