Good vs Evil

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.  What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45 NLT Catholic Edition

Have you ever watched the series “Once Upon a Time”.  My kiddos absolutely love this series and I have to say I have also developed an interest in it – although I often am lost in the twisted story line.

“Once Upon a Time” is a very twisted series of all the fairy tale stories we heard growing up and even some of the current fairy tale stories produced by Disney.  I have found it extremely interesting to understand good and evil in this series.  What is most intriguing is that good and evil is dictated by a person’s heart.  The more the heart becomes dark the more evil the person becomes.  The heart literally becomes black as a person embraces evil.  Evil is dictated by the person’s choice to do harm to others, in most cases by using dark magic.  An evil person, like the “Evil Queen” from Snow White, can become good by choosing to help the heroes save others by defeating those that are inflicting dark magic to harm others.

Reflect on that for a minute and what Jesus says in Luke 6:45.  Pause for a second and think about how sin eats away at you when you haven’t sought reconciliation.

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When you are carrying your sins within you, do you feel this dark cloud hanging over you?  Does your actions come from a place that is not of love?  Do you see small little signs that reveal a relationship of darkness in your heart from sin and your choices, especially your choice of words to others?

Dear sisters and brothers, when we carry sin, we are right where the enemy wants us.  He directs our heart away from God by covering it in darkness.  As we continue to carry it, the darkness continues to grow and we become more separated from our Father in Heaven and our ability to hear Him begins to fade.

Jesus says in Luke 6:42 “get rid of the log in your own eye.”  A little further, in Luke 6:48, Jesus describes what it looks like for a person who listens and does what He says.  He compares it to a person who builds a house on a solid foundation that can withstand the floodwaters that break against it.

In the context of these verses, I find a lesson of reconciliation and a strong statement of what our heart produces and the strength of our faith when we don’t reconcile our sins against our sisters and brothers.

I have been in this place a number of times and I’m sure you may have as well.  We dwell in the sins of anger, unforgiveness, jealousy, resentment, and judgement and our heart reflects that place of establishment.  This may weaken our faith when we need it most as it begins to separate our heart from God.  In some cases, it may totally fill the vessel within us so that we are not able to allow God to reside within, disabling us from reflecting the spirit of light onto others.

We are all called to shine the light of Christ to our brothers and sisters.  In order to do so, it is essential to reconcile our sins and fill our heart with the goodness of our Lord.

God bless each of you.

Good always wins

“I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

I’m sure everyone has watched at least one Disney princess movie, if not several.  Each is a story of love and each has some version of good and evil.  What I love about these movies is that good always prevails in the end and most of all LOVE.

LOVE can be easy at times and it can be very challenging.  Have you had those relationships where it was very easy to love the other person?  They made it so easy because they loved you back with a selfless kind of love.  What about those challenging relationships?  Some of these can be within our own families.  It can be a mother, a father, a sibling, a spouse, a child, or a good friend.  They may have hurt you in some way or their form of showing love was demanding and selfish.

I think when Jesus was giving this commandment to love one another as He loved us, He may have had these difficult relationships in mind.  I can’t remember where I read this but in this piece I was reading the author was comparing what it would look like for us today to resemble what Jesus did on the cross.  Would you every consider volunteering to take the place of a man who is about to be executed for murdering your child?  Consider what Jesus did for each of us.  That kind of love for another is pretty hard to swallow for probably all of us – to take the place of another on death row who murdered your child.

Truly let that sink in for a bit in alignment with this very commandment Jesus gives us to love one another and the very action Jesus did by giving His life for each of us, who was on death row for our sins against our Father.

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I’m not a saint by any means but I want to share a personal story that helped me to realize what Jesus meant in relation to me when He said “love one another as I have loved you.”  After Mass on Sunday and hearing the nice homily that the deacon delivered, I went about my normal business.  Later in the week, I attended a banquet with my daughters.  It was my evening to have my daughters.  My daughters saw their dad and went to tell him hi and returned to my table.  After sitting for several minutes, waiting for our table to be called up to get food, I caught a glimpse of their father on the other side of the cafeteria alone.  I whispered to both my daughters to go sit with their dad until our table was called up for food.  Now, this may seem like a normal story to most people and you may be saying I don’t get it.  What I want to share is that deep down I knew that my ex would never do this for me.  His actions have repeatedly been quite the opposite – and this past week was proof of the repeated offenses.  My actions were a result of Christ within me and not a result of me as my selfish human form.  It was Christ’s love that flowed through me to give me the grace to turn the other cheek and show love to a person who has hurt me deep within, who has left very deep scars and continues to inflict me.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the connection between my actions that night and the reading and it brought some peace to me.

I won’t pretend it’s easy to respond in love to those that hurt us or someone who just makes it difficult to love them, because it isn’t.  It is expected of us.  Even those individuals are God’s children and He loves them just as much as He loves us.  To love like Him, we MUST love those that we may feel don’t deserve our love.  Look at the cross, we didn’t deserve God’s love either, yet He freely gave it to us.

Choosing to do what Jesus would do will always bring light in the darkness.  GOOD ALWAYS WIN – just as in the Disney princess stories.  So the next time you are faced with the challenge of showing love to someone who has made it difficult for you to love, take that initiative and act in loving kindness just as Jesus would do for you after you committed your worst sin.

Arms stretched open

What does Holy Week mean to you?  Is it significant or insignificant?  When you hear the Passion, do you feel remorseful or sad?  What are your feelings when you see the crucifix Easter Sunday?

After hearing the Passion several times during the week and reading “No Greater Love”, a realization of Jesus’ endurance to accomplish all God had in store for Him hits the core of the soul.  Even during His final hours, He was still accomplishing God’s Will through teaching, fulfillment of prophecy, conversion and ministry.

The greatest realization that hit me this week as the crucifix was veiled, is what is revealed in the crucifix once it will be unveiled Easter Sunday when we celebrate the risen Jesus.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified, His arms were stretched open.  This is likely typical of crucifixion during the time period.  The significance to me that I have been meditating on that I want to share is on this cross, Jesus, in His final hours is inviting me and you to the cross.  His arms are open, waiting to embrace us with the love that He demonstrated for us during His crucifixion.  After venerating the cross, knowing that a cross similar to this cross, my Lord suffered for me and you, I was reminded of all the sins that I nailed to His cross.  Yet His arms are wide open, inviting me to forgiveness, to repent and to receive Him completely.

There are times in my life and perhaps yours, when life hits and I fall slowly away from God.  It starts with my time.  Something comes up when I planned to sit down and pray and I say, “I’ll get to it later.”  Something else comes up and before I know it a lot of these SOMETHING ELSE pops up and I haven’t spent a minute in prayer.  Other things continue to creep in filling my day and eventually I begin to feel lost and less connected to God.

I think Holy Week helps put this in perspective.  It highlights my relationship with God, where it has been, when it has been fruitful and when it has been barren.  I think this is the compass that helps me to look up and see Jesus’ arms wide open inviting me to be embraced by Him, to a deeper, loving relationship with Him.

I don’t know your story, but I do believe that everyone has a story.  Some of you may have fallen away from the Church, away from God completely.  You may have been seriously wounded and felt abandoned by God.  You may have hurt someone deeply yourself and feel remorseful but unable to move forward towards forgiveness.  You may have sought answers or asked for prayers that went unanswered.  Or you may have lost a loved one and felt God abandoned them so why should you continue in a relationship with Him.  Whatever your story, know that God did send His only son, fully human and fully divine, to walk among His people, to suffer and die for them.  Them – being YOU and ME.  His son was nailed to a cross, displayed for all to see with His arms stretched open.  No matter your circumstance, He is inviting you to come to Him, to let Him embrace you, to pour out His mercy, love and compassion and help you carry your crosses.

Have a very Blessed EASTER.

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Look up and embrace His love

As we approach Holy Week, I have been trying to refocus myself.  Throughout Lent we should have been looking within and uncovering sin in our lives.

My last blog, invited you to look at your own crosses in your life and see the resemblances of those crosses to Christ’s passion and be thankful for your crosses. I think this helps us to relate in a sense to what Christ endured. Just as in our relationships today with those beside us when we connect to someone through similarities in our stories, our bonds grow deeper. I think this is an important dynamic for us as humans – to empathize and discover companionship in our lives. When we can empathize with Christ, we can also go deeper in our relationship with Him.

As I embark on this refocus in my own spiritual life leading up to Holy Week, I am also reading “No Greater Love” written by Dr Ed Sri. This book is an awesome read. One of the things I found interesting in the book is that Dr Sri talks about when Peter denies Christ three times. After he realizes, he goes away and weeps. During Lent, we really begin to look at sin in our lives which brings us to repentance. What is important is that when we recognize this sin that we don’t go into a selfish mode feeling upset about our weakness, that we weren’t as good or as holy as we should have been. In essence, we don’t go into the mode of beating ourselves up over what choices we have made resulting in sin and the consequences that come with it. I am so guilty of this. Instead of focusing on a selfish, beating myself up point of view, look at it from how did I offend my Lord, how has this hurt my relationship with my Lord and/or others. Instead of “looking down”, “look up” at the cross, see your Lord on that cross.

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When Dr Sri talks about Peter going off, isolating himself and weeping bitterly, he talks about how remorseful he was. He wasn’t upset with himself because he knew better. He was truly sorrowful that he had denied his Lord, he had caused damage in his relationship with Jesus through his actions. This is how we as sinners repent and go through transformation in our lives, turning away from sin. It is through true remorse of how we have offended God, how we have moved further away from a deeper relationship with Him that brings us closer to Him.  When we come to Him with a contrite heart, sorry for our offenses against Him, exposing our true self, our weaknesses as sinners, He embraces us with His love with all our hurts, faults, and fears.

During Holy Week, not only do I invite you to look at your crosses and feel Jesus’ passion through your life but I also invite you to look up, and evaluate how your sins have impacted your relationship with God and truly offended Him. This will give you the graces through your reconciliation to turn away from sin and be embraced by the love and mercy of God – JUST AS YOU ARE, A WRETCHED SINNER WHO HAS FLAWS.

Your cross

In the still of the morning, my mind wanders to the path you walked. 

What did you feel when you were condemned to death?  Were tears welling up in your eyes for the love you felt for me as I placed my own sins on the cross that you would carry?

When you picked up your cross, did the thought of me cross your mind as you knew you were offering yourself up for me?  

Each time you fell from exhaustion of carrying your cross, burdened with the weight of the world, did your heart ache?  

When you saw your mother Mary, did sorrow fill your wounded body?

When God sent Simon of Cyrene to companion this journey with you, lifting the weight of the cross from your body, did you feel His overwhelming love and the power of His Will within you?

When Veronica wiped your face, did you feel her kind heart?

With each swing of the mallet when they nailed you to the cross you were carrying, did you feel the sting of each of my sins that you carried along your journey?

This journey I travel through life has a familiarity.  Every corner I turn on my path is strewed with crosses.  Some of these come with great pain and suffering that seems unbearable as I try to carry it alone. Yet some seem light and airy.

You carried one big cross for many and I carry many small crosses.  When I feel burdened with the weight of my cross, you tell me I’m not alone and you send me a companion to aid me in carrying that cross.  Along my path, our Blessed Mother meets me and comforts my sorrowful body with her gentleness.  You send many Veronica’s to show kindness to me, lifting my head and wiping my tears.  

It is in these crosses I pick up and carry along my journey, that I meet you.  I meet you in those around me, the companions you send.  I meet you in the pain, suffering, love and mercy.  I embrace you when I trust in your presence within me as you lift the burdens of the cross.  It is these crosses that become light and airy.  And it is in these crosses that I find true joy, love and forgiveness.  

Have you felt a familiarity with Jesus’ passion?  Do you see the similarities of your crosses in life.  Do you recognize the Simon’s of Cyrene He sends to help you carry your crosses?  Do you recognize the Veronica’s that show kindness lifting your spirits?  Do you feel the gentle embrace of the Blessed Mother comforting you?  Although Jesus endured much more pain and suffering than we may ever endure, our journeys are similar to His when we carry our crosses.  It is in our crosses that we empathize with Jesus’ passion, that we feel close to Him, where we meet Him more intimately.

As Holy Week approaches, I invite you to look at your crosses in your journey – where you were sent a companion, or a kind person, or an embrace of comfort.  Truly feel the passion of Jesus through your own crosses, your own pain and suffering and thank Him for laying these crosses before you.

May God keep you and bless you this Easter season.

How well are you known?

Lord, You have probed me, You know me; You know when I sit and stand; You understand my thoughts from afar.  You sift through my travels and my rest; With all my ways You are familiar.  Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord You know it all.  Psalm 139:1-4

Have you ever sat in a quiet place, perhaps beneath the stars in the dead of night or under the blanket of the suns warmth near a creek or a lake and just wandered how well God knows YOU?

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite Psalms.  I could sit and meditate on this Psalm for hours, bathing in God’s presence as He probes me.  Of course, there may be days I don’t want God to probe me but He does.

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I have struggled with seeing God as a God who judges and disciplines.   Viewing God in this light and reflecting on Psalm 139, can be a little bit of a fear factor – seeing God as someone who knows every nook and cranny of my being.  Someone who knows my thoughts, my actions, and my feelings even before I do. What does He think when He sees my ugliness, my sinfulness?  Does He judge me then?  Does He nod His head and say, “there she goes again?”  When I first read Psalm 139, this was my reaction.

Oh no, God knows what I was thinking when I saw Betsy Sue take the last piece of that delicious cake and I’m going to have to go to confession.

God may see the ugly thoughts I have and all my sins but where I find the AWESOME SAUCE in this Psalm, is that God knows me so well that He guides me through life.

I think sometimes we don’t realize this until we go through something major in our lives and we see God’s hands guiding our steps and those around us.  In some cases, we may not see it in the midst of what is going on in our life but it’s revealed to us later.  Other times, it may be something simple, something we read or see.

One day, I was humored when my daughter was reading a daily devotion that spoke directly to her with something she was dealing with that day.  She paused and looked at me and said “how does He do that? How does He know what I was going to be dealing with today?  Did He swap the pages?”  I often wonder this exact thing when I read something that speaks directly to me about what I have been dealing with.  Often it is in a devotion or opening the Word of God and reading scripture.

After reading Psalm 139, I’m not sure why I am ever surprised when God speaks directly to me or guiding me.  After all, He knows exactly what is on my mind, what is in my heart.  I could give testimony after testimony on where I have seen God’s hands guiding my life.

This my dear friends is where surrender and a journey of trust begins.  It’s seeing God’s presence in your life, seeing His hands guiding you, reading something that speaks to your heart because He knows what is on your mind and in your heart.

Wherever you are in life, “even there [His] hand guides [you], [His] right hand holds [you] fast.” (Psalm 139:10)  “[Your] days were shaped, before [you] came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Are you ready to surrender and trust your God who knows you better than you know yourself?  Are you willing to allow Him to guide you along the path that He has already mapped out for you?

Tauren Wells says it so well in his song Known…. “It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace to be known fully known and loved by You.”

Lenten journey

In a few weeks Lent will begin. It is a time of reflecting in the darkness. Its a journey being transformed through the light by the death and resurrection of Christ which brings new life to each of us. For several years, I taught kindergarten faith formation. I have to say although chaotic at times, it is one of my favorite groups to teach. Their little minds are easily fascinated and soak in everything you teach them. One of my favorite lessons was teaching about Lent with the analogy of the butterfly.

Dear friends, there is a butterfly in each of us waiting to be transformed in beauty, and released from the captivity of the cocoon.

Our sin is the cocoon that traps us within. It is the blanket of death in spirit that wraps us tightly, imprisoning us from life, joy and happiness.

During Lent, we reflect on these things that separate us from God, the sin that kills our soul, entrapping our spirit. Through the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are cleansed, set free from the chains that tie us down. The beauty within, the butterfly, emerges revealing the new life of joy. At this point in our journey, we reach a peak moment on the mountain of our faith and are closer to God than any other moment in that season of our journey.

I think the beauty is that each liturgical year, we are able to go through this process of transformation, of growing closer to God, unlike the butterfly who only goes through it once.

Think about Lent as the season of the cocoon. The season leading up to Lent is a season of gluttony. During Lent, we begin to look within and abstain from those things that we have indulged in, particularly our sin. During Holy Week, at Easter we see the transformation, the great release of our spirit, freely embracing our faith and the love God pours out for each of us. This is the height of the season, the Agape of love that covers us, lightening our load on our journey to strengthen us for the new road ahead.

This Lent, I invite you to look at it as a journey of reflection, release and transformation. Receive the ultimate sacrifice and love as if it were the first time you went through this season, as if you had never heard the Passion of Christ. Embrace it and be strengthen and fed for the journey that lies before you.