All Hallows

by Spencer Hargadon

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day.  It gives Monday's holiday, All Hallows’ Eve, its name, “Halloween.”  I have nothing against the practice of dressing kids up and sending them around the neighborhood to acquire candy from people.  I think it is great.  But there is a reason the two are one after the other.

Pentecost

See in the early Church, and still in many Eastern Churches, All Saints’ Day was shortly after Pentecost.  It makes sense then too.  If we are going to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit then we should be quick to celebrate how effective He has been down through the ages.  That changed in the Eighth Century.  At that time, the feast was moved to be the day after a Celtic festival that was based on the belief that on October 31 the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was thinned.  Whether this was done to ease people’s conversions or to combat this pagan feast is beyond my area of expertise and I have little regard for ‘.com’ opinions regarding the motivations of historical figures, particularly Popes.  Instead, I want to point out what we have available to us in these two days.

Torn Veil

In essence we have a mini-Easter in the fall.  We have a holiday based on the veil between the living and the dead that is immediately followed by a celebration of that veil being torn.  We have a holiday that said death is on that side of the veil and life is on this side overcome by Feast that declares that life, and not death, came through the torn veil.  That truly we were the land of the dead but now have access to the Spirit of Life.

The origin of Halloween was that the veil was thin and we hid in costumes of the dead to conceal ourselves from other spirits.  We celebrate today because the veil was torn, we can shed our costume of walking death, and the Spirit of the living God resides in us.  We declare that His love overcomes all fear, and that we look for the Lord of Life in His distressing disguise of the poor and under the guise of bread and wine.

The land of the dead was invaded by Life and we celebrate all of those who have been brought to life.

All Saints’ Day, it’s like the Zombie Apocalypse… in reverse.

Phantogram and Switchfoot: Perfect Pair or Musical Irony?

By Matt Reinkemeyer

So most of the time when I’m at the gym I’m either plugged into the TV watching ESPN while I run or listening to my own music. Why? I usually only like a small sample of the music they play at the gym over the speakers even if the mix has gotten better lately. Anyway, this morning while I was finishing up in the locker room, putting on my shoes and brushing my teeth, I heard two songs played back to back that I found quite ironically placed in succession one to the other.

The first was “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” by Phantogram. If you’re not familiar with the song, the lyrics are copied below. The gist of the song speaks from the perspective of an addict. While her references stray in and out of relationships, drugs, cutting, thrill seeking and more, the point is clear… “Nothing is fun / Not like before / You don’t get me high anymore.” The upbeat catchy rhythm seems to be masking what is otherwise a hopeless message… “Stare with me into the abyss / Do you feel like letting go? / I wonder how far down it is.”

Maybe I’m weird for listening that closely to lyrics, but the messages we hear and allow to rattle around in our brain are so important which is why I’m so glad that the next message was the ironic answer to Phantogram’s lack of hope. Which song came on next you wonder? Queue up “Float” by Switchfoot off their new album “Where the Light Shines Through.” If you’re not familiar with the song, as I wasn’t super familiar with it, I’ve copied the lyrics below and you can check out the sweet music video HERE.

Anyway, the irony is that if you weren’t paying attention you would think both bands were just seeking happiness for happiness sake and that the only difference is that Switchfoot hasn’t been let down yet. So, instead of “You don’t get me high anymore” with Phantogram you get “We ain’t never coming down” with Switchfoot. So, while it may be a horrible use of the English language, Switchfoot clearly conveys a completely different place of mind and heart and if you dare to listen on you’ll hear that they are on completely different paths.

You see, where Phantogram is looking for happiness in the things of this world, Switchfoot’s references all point beyond this world. They even point out that “Money gonna run away hardest / Money gonna leave you broken-hearted / But money can’t finish what we started.” So, while Switchfoot sometimes is given a bad rap for not being explicitly Christian, even though that world view clearly informs all their music, we can see them pointing to the happiness, or joy rather, that comes from our relationship with Jesus. And they even point to the way in to this happy club… “You don’t need an education / All you need’s an invitation.”

So who are we going to invite today into the goodness, happiness, and joy that only our God can provide? Who can we pull away from the edge, “the end,” the person staring “into the abyss?” If that person is you, then this post is for you. Consider this your invitation.

 

You Don’t Get Me High Anymore – Phantogram

I don't like staying at home
When the moon is bleeding red
Woke up stoned in the backseat
From a dream where my teeth fell out of my head

 

Cut it up, cut it up, yeah
Everybody's on something here
My godsend chemical best friend
Skeleton whispering in my ear

 

Walk with me to the end
Stare with me into the abyss
Do you feel like letting go?
I wonder how far down it is

 

Nothing is fun
Not like before
You don't get me high anymore
Used to take one
Now it's takes four
You don't get me high anymore

 

Runnin' through emergency rooms
Spinning wheels and ceiling fans
My hand shake cellophane landscape
Mannequin (fakin' it) the best I can.

 

It's Cadillac, Cadillac red
No hands on the steering wheel
I'm crashing this save-a-ho
Puppet show
UFO
Obliterate the way I feel

 

Walk with me to the end
Stare with me into the abyss
Do you feel like letting go?
I wonder how far down it is

 

Nothing is fun
Not like before
You don't get me high anymore
Used to take one
Now it's takes four
You don't get me high anymore
You don't get me high anymore
You don't get me high anymore

 

Walk with me to the end
Stare with me into the abyss
Do you feel like letting go?
I wonder how far down it is

 

Nothing is fun
Not like before
You don't get me high anymore
Used to take one
Now it's takes four
You don't get me high anymore

You don't get me high anymore
(high anymore)
(you don't get me, you don't get me high anymore)
You don't get me high anymore

 

 

Float – Switchfoot

Turn it up so I can feel it
Turn it up so I can be near it
Baby says she's got that feeling
Moonwalking on the ceiling

It's alright
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright, all alright

Turn it up so I can feel it
Loud enough so I can get near it
Baby's in that slow emotion
Moonwalking on the ocean

It's how we float, yeah
Feet ain't even touching ground
It's how we float, yeah
Flying at the speed of sound
I'm in orbit like a jet pilot
Ain't no gravity to try to fight it
It's how we float, yeah
We ain't never coming down

Don't you need someone to lean on?
Don't you need that taste of freedom?
It don't take no education
All you need's an invitation

It's alright
It's alright, all alright

It's how we float, yeah
Feet ain't even touching ground
It's how we float, yeah
Flying at the speed of sound
I'm in orbit like a jet pilot
Ain't no gravity to try to fight it
It's how we float, yeah
We ain't never coming down

Away from the crowds where you realize
The herd's insecure or the free mind
So don't let em tell you what to feel like
They can't bring me down, can't bring me down, yeah
Money gonna run away hardest
Money gonna leave you broken-hearted
But money can't finish what we started
It can't bring me down, can't bring me down, yeah
(It's how we float, yeah)

It's how we float, yeah (in orbit)
Feet ain't even touching ground
It's how we float (orbit), yeah
Flying at the speed of sound
I'm in orbit like a jet pilot (yeah, yeah)
Ain't no gravity to try to fight it (it's how we, how we)
It's how we float, yeah
We ain't never coming down

It's how we float, yeah
Feet ain't even touching ground (it's how we float)
It's how we float, yeah
Flying at the speed of sound (it's how we float in orbit)
I'm in orbit like a jet pilot (it's how we float in orbit, yeah)
Ain't no gravity to try to fight it
It's how we float, yeah
We ain't never coming down

No Time

By Randi Hom

Some days I feel like I am too busy for Jesus, like I don't have time for Him or anything else in my life. My time for family and friends seems kind of small because I'm going to work 8 hours a day, then to work at church, then to choir practice, then home to clean, and finally collapse into bed at midnight. I start all over again at 5:30am when my alarm blares at me. 

 

I'm exhausted Jesus! How could I have time for You? You're not making my life any better right now or easing my load. Things are just getting crazier!

 

Has your life ever been like that? Relief or Jesus' attempt to give it to me comes, but it's just a whisper. He says, "Slow down and sit with me." Even when I'm at church working, I'm like, "Jesus, I'm just too tired to walk upstairs and across the whole church to get to You. I just want to go home!" But he again calls me and I relent. I walk into the chapel and collapse on the floor and beg Him to take everything.

 

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. - Matthew 11:28-30

 

This is my real life right now. In reality, I know I'm not really too busy for Jesus, but I need to carve out some time for Him. Sometimes that means letting go of some things so I can focus on my relationship with Him first. I used to feel like this in high school and I was constantly busy. Then someone introduced me to Eucharistic Adoration and I cleared my schedule Friday nights to go spend an hour with Him. While everyone was at the game for the final quarter, I was at church turning my week over to God. I thank God every time I think about those times in prayer that kept me from feeling too overwhelmed by all of the to-dos of high school life. Now as an adult I only wish that my life was so simple and that I didn't have to work to make a living. I would have so much more time to pray! But I think God isn't looking for lots of time like spending all day at church, but rather us stopping and taking time out to be with Him in the midst of it all. To realize that we can't hold it together without Him.

 

And when you think you can't hold it together anymore, that's a pretty good indicator that you need more Jesus in your life. So think about where you're at right now. Are you too busy for Jesus? If so, you need to make some adjustments in your life to make room for Jesus. Don't be afraid, do it! I swear it will be a game changer.

Bubble Wrap

by Spencer Hargadon

“Spend my nights with a roll of bubble wrap
POP POP!” – White and Nerdy, Weird Al Yankovic

Who doesn’t love bubble wrap?  Do you have to be white and nerdy to love it?  As I am both white and nerdy, I can’t say for sure.  However, I remember loving Weird Al’s bubble wrap line when I first heard it in college. 

Bubble wrap is good stuff.  Want to send a vase to Aunt Myrtle? Bubble wrap.  Want to annoy your siblings?  Bubble wrap.  Want to make friends with little kids?  Bubble wrap.  And let’s not forget that it is the poor man’s whoopee cushion.  I, like Weird Al, like bubble wrap.

Sometimes though, we want bubble wrap at the wrong times.  We want a life without negative consequences.  We like consequences, when they benefit us, but we want to be shielded from the effects of poor decisions.  We want ‘casual safe sex,’ porn without lasting impact, gossip without broken relationships, love without heartbreak, substance abuse without poor health, procrastination without stress, and popularity without peer pressure.  Kids, teenagers, college students, and adults want to pull out the bubble wrap all the time.  Sometimes we even want to bubble wrap each other.  Parents desire to shield their children.  We’ve met bubble wrap parents, we might even have bubble wrap parents.

God is not a bubble wrap Father.

God does not wrap us up in plastic bubbles.  Not because he is negligent or cruel but because He wants us to experience the great joy of loving.  A movie from my high school days captured this reality in a very worldly way.  In the movie Bubble Boy (this is not an endorsement), the main character was shielded from any potential source of harm.  It worked, he could not be harmed.  He also couldn’t love.

 

God doesn’t bubble wrap us, but he still protects us from the consequences that are too big for us.  He rejects those temporary, unfeeling plastic bubbles for the arms of the Eternal Son.  Next time you look on the wounds from Christ’s scourging, don’t imagine him hunched over a pillar while he is being struck.  Instead, know that he was shielding you.

He is far better than bubble wrap.

 

Identity Crisis

by Brian Geeding

Is there something in the water?

Something in the food we take?

Something in the air we breathe?

Subduing passions, veiling what’s fake?

 

Caught up in a game

“We the People” pawns on the board

Schemes and agendas planned behind our backs

Mass confusion, unseen attacks

 

Radiated Pacific,

Oceans littered with trash

Hidden from us like the night

Not for long, we are people of light

 

Political budgets in the hundreds of millions

Spent on gossip, hateful attacks

Corporate run country

Immoral intentions, matter of fact

  

No more pretending or turning blind eyes

We each have a role uncovering the guise

Our flower has bloomed, pedals now droop

Roots so shallow, chemically induced

 

Life to death to life again

The natural cycle of all things living

Afraid of the future, we cling to the past

Death is the compost for something that’ll last

 

A message not easy to bear

All countries, all religions, all people should care

Continue to hack at the branch of the tree

Or get to our root, new life prepared

 

Wear the armor of hope

Pray for divine wisdom

Ask many questions

Be still and set sail

 

Change is knocking, many believe

We are the groundswell, insight received

An army of followers, Christ is our lead

Remembering that love is the eternal see

Who You Talking To?

by Spencer Hargadon

As summer comes to a close, I am excited for the 2nd Encounter Dayton on September 10 and Encounter Cincinnati on September 24.  Both of those are going to be great events.  We are going to be able to lift up praise to our God with our voices, return to His merciful embrace through Reconciliation, and stand face-to-face with Him in Adoration.  Now all of these things are available to us all the time.  Seriously, check Masstimes.org.  But I get it why they can all seem just a little more amped at Encounter.

A part of this reality might tie into the fantastic word that we get to hear.  The speaker has just peeled back the layers of distractions at every Encounter I’ve gone to.  This clarity helps me run, not walk to Reconciliation.  It reminds me to pray our praise songs.  It releases me to embrace the mystery of the Eucharist.  But not without a struggle.

See, whether it is Steubenville, Encounter, or a homily, I have a battle to fight inside.  Maybe you can relate to this.  The second I feel challenged or convicted by a message I cease to be the audience.  Do you know what I mean?  Instead of letting the words sink in, you spiritually deflect them, like Obi-wan with his lightsaber. “This talk is great!  So & so needs to hear this.”  Have you ever done that? 

 

Don’t get me wrong, we can share pearls of wisdom with others, but if we don’t let that wisdom impact us as well then it wasn’t sharing at all.  It was more like pelting them with pearls of wisdom.  And we can’t do that!

·       We cannot do that, because it can often come from a place of judgement. 

·       We also need to be challenged.  Jesus wants to be our best friend, and you know what my best friends do?  They tell me when I’m not acting like myself.  Is there anyone who knows the true you better than Jesus?  We need to let Him call us out.

·       If we train ourselves to deflect when God is trying to challenge us because it makes us squirrely and squirmy, we will do it again.  Only this time we might redirect when we hear the Lord say,

“I love you.” 

“I am proud of you.”  

“You are my beloved Child with whom I am well pleased.”

When you are at Encounter or listening to your priest’s homily, let the tough word sink in.  For if we can admit that our Father’s word of correction is truly for us, we can allow our hearts to truly hear His love for us.

Photo Credit: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Form_III/Legend

Video of the Week [1]

It’s cool because this is exciting, this is fun, but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life. Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we’re doing. -Steele Johnson

Emmanuel – Deus Nobiscum

by Spencer Hargadon

The prefix con-, which means “with” or “thoroughly,” appears in numerous English vocabulary words. – http://membean.com/wrotds/con-with

In Communion, I consume the one who is consubstantial.

Concomitantly, I am consummated into this Communion of Persons.

I become contained within his confidence.

The happy consequence of this should show on my countenance.

Assuming, my conscience does not convict me of conceding to my concupiscence.

Constantly, I am in conflict with forces trying to make grace continent.

For this conjugal call requires complete concession.

It is contradictory to conceive of Christ’s role as constrained.

This is not a conciliar relationship; where we converse about concessions we both can make.

This is not a loose confederation; where Christ is only of consequence in conceding members of my person.

No, I must confess that Christ holds the conch.

I am a concentric circle around God who condescended to become concrete for me.

Yet, I confiscate his rightful place,

construing Him as little more than a condiment

on this conglomerate we conceive as life.

When I do so I conceal my need for him to consecrate my concussed heart.

His Spirit must settle upon me like condensation.

I need Christ to conquer my soul as he concurrently conquers the world.

I need His grace without condition, like a divine contagion 

with little concern for confinement to where I conceive of Him as convenient.

I must be the concelebrant in the sacrifice of my being.

That is the conduit by which it is conceivable

that I might contemplate the face of Emmanuel,

God thoroughly with us.

Deus Nobiscum.

Come Around the Fire

by Spencer Hargadon

Encounter Dayton happened!  How great is that?!?  While I was there I spent a lot of time in prayer and I want to share what the Lord placed on my heart as I prayed about the Spirit.

I have to confess that I have recently experienced a fear of the Spirit.  It was much like this quote from Benedict XVI, “The Holy Spirit is fire; whoever does not want to be burned should not come near him.”  Now, that quote can get you pumped!  Or, it can discourage you if you approach it the wrong way.

See, I coordinate several ministries, have two kids, and still have to take care of myself spiritually.  With all of that busyness, I can get weary and overwhelmed.  It is during those times of tiredness that I look at our popular views of the Spirit and get hesitant.  I’m hesitant because I see the Spirit adding projects, obligations, relationships, and missions to people’s lives.  He is emphasized as a mover, activator, and animator and sometimes I don’t feel like I have time for that.

Maybe you can relate.  Maybe you have felt too busy, too stretched, or too exhausted for the Spirit, and you really don’t want to get burned.  If you can relate, here is what the Lord put on my heart.

The Spirit is fire, yes.  Fire is active and a sign of energy and motion.  However, the Lord also called the Spirit our comforter and our consoler.  When you are tired, beaten, battered, and scared, He is the arms that wrap us in a comforting embrace.  He is the fire of a person camping in woods at night, providing comfort and warding off the darkness.  He is the fireplace that a family gathers around on a cold winter night providing peace, calm, and communion that goes beyond words or activities.

The Liar whispered in my ear that the Spirit will only stretch you thinner than you can go, “Like butter over too much bread” says Mr. Bilbo.

The Lord promised me that around this fire I can truly find rest.  He will rejuvenate me before He sends me back out.

I believe Him.  And so I invite you, come around the fire.

Modesty is for Disciples

by Randi Hom

When I was in high school, I guess I was fairly pretty. I had a couple of boyfriends. I had some friends. I had my faith and went to youth group. I won’t brag, but I look back now and think that I was gorgeous!

However, I was super self-conscious back then. I thought I was fat and that my chest was too big. To me, I wasn’t like the thin, neat little popular girls. I was kind of a tomboy too. I usually wore jeans and t-shirts, cargo pants, spaghetti strap tops, etc. It was 1998-2001 and I went to a public high school, so there weren’t rules on what to where like there is now. I was also a Christian and everyone at school knew, but I wasn’t into being too modest and I always let things slide. This got me all the wrong attention from boys.

After high school, I realized that if my body got me attention, then I should flaunt what I have. Seriously probably the worst thing I could have done for my self-worth. I started wearing low cut shirts a lot. Even when I went away to Franciscan University for college, I didn’t catch on to modesty physically or spiritually. At that time, I had heard the term “Theology of the Body” only once in a random discussion and I didn’t know what it meant. I used immodesty to get guys to notice me. I met some of the sketchiest men and it always turned sexual and I felt used. So many times I cried because things didn’t turn out the way they did in the movies. I was broken.

I met my husband the summer before my senior year at Franciscan. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my holiness that initially caught his eye. I wore things that summer that were not appropriate for a woman of God to wear. However, he was enthralled by the fact I loved God too. When I went back to school, it was time to buckle down and get professional as I applied to jobs. I remember my roommate Mary dragging me around department stores looking for just the right thing for interviews and in the end I was forced to buy a pant suit, top, and heels. That year I started to be a little bit more grown-up in what I wore, but the rest of the time I was hiding in hoodies and jeans. Unless Ben came to visit. Then I wore things that were immodest.

After graduation and getting my first job as a youth minister (how ironic!), I started to be a little more modest. I was married now, but I still had major problems seeing the issues with what I wore. I remember one summer we had a pool party at the local pool to celebrate the end of a week of service. A mom came up to me and told me I looked inappropriate. While I had on a tankini (totally modest right?) my chest was just too out there. I put on my shirt and hid in the shaded area until the end of the afternoon. I was super embarrassed. Not what you want to happen when you’re the youth minister!

About a year later one of my friends told me I needed to dress more grown-up and stop wearing jeans and flip-flops. I also needed to be more modest she said. I finally started looking at how I dressed and began researching what was becoming of a true woman of God.

I discovered that modesty was an attitude of the heart as well as a manner of dress (1 Timothy 2:9). Modesty considers how we think about ourselves in relation to God, which is then reflected in the way we dress. When I was younger, my heart wanted love and attention. I thought the only way to get it was by dressing immodestly. My actions revealed that I was broken inside. When I shifted my focus to Christ and I realized that He could give me all the love I ever needed, I no longer sought out the attention of others by dressing immodestly. Now I know that my heart has been made whole.

As Catholics, we are representatives of Christ and His Church, so we need to be mindful of modesty. As a disciple of Christ, modesty realizes our relationship with Him, in that we do not need to gain attention through boastful or revealing clothing. This was something I was really struggling with myself, and it really hit home. Modesty considers the weaknesses of our other brothers and sisters in Christ, and helps us strive to not contribute to their spiritual downfall. This also means that modesty is not just for women, but also for men, as we need them to be accountable as well. I felt terrible for the way that I had dressed in the past due to this. I felt bad that I led other girls to model my example thinking that I was being a woman of God when I dressed immodestly and I knew that my actions had not gone unnoticed by the guys, even if it was to pray for my soul. I think a couple of priests came out of all of this, LOL!

So now when I think about what I’m wearing, I look at it from a different angle. When it comes to clothes (for girls and guys), these are some things I learned:

-        Make sure the fit is just right, not tight. You also don’t want to wear it too big.

·       Stay away from pants that:

Ø  sag in all the wrong places. Guys, we don’t want to see your underwear!

Ø  show off every curve and bump like too tight skinny jeans or leggings (which are not pants by the way!).

-        Make sure your shirts/shorts/skirts/dresses fit comfortably and you aren’t always trying to tug at them. If you’re trying to tug them down, then they are usually too short or you can’t move in them like you need to. This just makes you look uncomfortable.

-        Make sure that you’re not advertising what you don’t intend to.

Ø  Remember that you don’t have to show off your arms, legs, abs, etc. to get attention. Most people just want to get to know the real you!

Ø  Keep your necklines up.

Ø  Don’t wear racy slogans on your shirts or behinds.

-        When swimming, it’s always good to cover up. You don’t want to get skin cancer! (You can thank my sister for this safety alert!)

-        Dressing modestly doesn’t mean dressing like a nun, a priest, or your grandparents (Not that they are bad styles! I seriously wish for a habit somedays!). You can have fun with what you wear by exploring different colors, patterns, fabrics, and styles. Be fashionable and modest while also being YOU!

So, in closing, make sure to always look presentable and modest. A little care can go a long way to making you a credible witness! Modesty is one way we can “Preach the Gospel at all times.”

 

The Smile that Never Fades

by Brian Geeding

 

A few weeks ago the world lost a beautiful, young, resilient, compassionate, woman. Emily O’ Reilly was a mother of three young children and wife of Scott O’ Reilly. Although I personally only had the privilege of meeting Emily a few times over the past year, her zeal for life was extremely evident and contagious.

 

The story I am going to share is a beautiful testament to the presence of God comforting our community in a time of sadness and grief. It is a powerful God moment. Please forgive me if I miss or mess up any of the details from the story, as I will be telling it from my perspective.

 

Back in November, there was a prayer service held for Emily at St. Mary. Family and friends of Emily came together often to support Emily in communal prayer while she battled with the cancer. On this particular day, a friend of Emily brought a smiley face balloon to give to her. In the process of bringing it up to her, the balloon slipped away into the high rafters of the church. I had not been to this prayer service and therefore did not know that this had happened.  It was a few days later at an all school mass when students noticed the balloon high up there. Most of us wondered where it came from. As the weeks passed, I felt like the balloon became a part of our community. I would often look up at it and give a smile back. It was as if God was smiling down on us. Still, no one had heard where this balloon had come from.

 

In the weeks to follow, Emily continued to battle the cancer and, finally, after 18 months, rested in Christ’s arms on January 2nd.

 

At the funeral mass on January 9th, Scott O’ Reilly shared his beautiful words of remembrance about his wife with the congregation. It was while Scott was speaking that God allowed the presence of Emily to drift down from the rafters of heaven in the form of the smiley face balloon. It slowly floated down from the ceiling and moved towards Scott at the ambo. From there, the balloon slowly floated up towards the large crucifix that hangs over the altar. This balloon had not budged for months.  It was after the funeral mass that the story of the balloon being let go of in November was told to me. It was at this time that the layer of chills I got and awe I felt went to my heart. The orchestration of God from above is not always noticed, but the Spirit of God through the life of Emily was and will continue to be noticed for years to come.

 

Thank you God for this encounter with you. We are grateful that you continue to write the stories of your life in us. We are your “Newest Testament.”

Am I trying to work for God or with God?

by Walter Plummer

 

Question: Let’s say you’re in front of a group of fellow Catholics. And let’s say this group is a pretty standard group from our U.S. Catholic world. They go to church a couple times a month, they’re involved with sports and careers and friends, and while they probably think God is nice, they probably also think he’s like a spare tire--good for fixing bad situations, but most of the time he’s in an obscure corner of life and isn’t really necessary.

 

Now here’s the question: What could you do to awaken their faith?

 

Got any ideas yet? You probably do. And they probably involve some awesome videos, a few sweet analogies, an impassioned talk, and some Matt Maher songs. And that’s good stuff. But will it do the trick? Will it awaken their faith?

 

Before we answer this last question, maybe we need to step back and ask: Am I trying to work for God or with God?

 

I ask you this question because, as a very wise priest friend of mine pointed out recently, when we live out our faith, many times we think it’s our responsibility to make the difference, to make our own good fruit. Whether it’s evangelizing, trying to fix your friends’ dating relationships, or taking that next step in our own relationship with Jesus, we put the responsibility squarely on our own shoulders. We say to ourselves,  “If we don’t do it, then who will? If I don’t make it happen, then it won’t happen. There’s a kingdom to be built, and I’ll be darned if I’m not the one building it!”, and then we put on our work boots and kick down some spiritual doors, Terminator-style.

 

And there’s a part of this is healthy and good. We are workers in the vineyard of God, the hands and feet of Christ. But here’s the thing: workers follow the will of the owner. The hands and feet of Christ follow their head, who is Christ himself. When we get ready to commence spiritual boot camp for ourselves or for others, we need to take a second and ask: Have I spent some time listening for where God is already at work and where he’s calling me to serve? Am I trying to work for God or with God?

 

Working for God is a kind of idolatry, because instead of placing God at the center of our lives, trusting in his Divine Providence (meaning his infinite love and good plan for us), we put ourselves at the center, making our own plan and our own action the end-all be-all of goodness in life. Working with God on the other hand, is precisely what we were made to do. We were made to be stewards of our time, our resources, the gift of our lives, and to place those before God, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Working for God will wear you down because that’s a burden we weren’t meant to bear. Working with God, while often tiring and trying, will always (long-term) bring us the peace, the hope, and the joy we so desperately long for, because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

 

If you want a great example of how working with God is supposed to look, check out Jesus’ words just before he commissions the 12 apostles in Matthew:

           

            “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’”

            -Matthew 9:35-38

 

What is the first step Jesus gives his disciples when he sees all of the pain and heartache and sorrow of his beloved people? Rely on God to lead you.

 

To go back to the situation with a group of our fellow Catholics, remember, God was always there with them already, and he loves them with an everlasting love, just as he loves you and me. Trust that. And then ask him how he is at work in your life. Ask the Master, and then trust that he has a better plan than yours or mine.

Where is Jesus in the midst of all this?

by Randi Hom

Relationships are key in our lives. They shape us into who we are and build support systems.

When we were young, we relied on our parents to feed, clothe, and bathe us. We were helpless. We learned to trust our parents, taking tiny, shaky steps towards them as we learned to walk. Our mom would talk to us, and we would repeat what she said (even if was not understandable!). I remember my dad teaching me how to throw a ball and being so excited when I was able to throw it well. I also remember my mom patting my back as I fell asleep. I loved them and I felt complete with them around.

But like I learned, sometimes our families fall apart. Divorce is like having your two best friends mad at each other for the rest of their lives – and you’re right in the middle of it. That’s how I felt the whole time growing up after my parents divorced when I was 8. I felt like I couldn’t go to either one of them and when it came to taking their advice or instruction, sometimes I still think, “No way!” I didn’t want to end up more broken or hurt any worse than I already was. My sense of security was gone. How could God let this happen to me?

Then came puberty. As we get older, there are these things called hormones that wreak havoc on our lives. One day it’s like we wake up a different person. “Mom must not know what she’s talking about” and “Dad is so old and lame.” We think that they “don’t understand” us. Add in pride and attitude, and there is now a strong storm brewing.

It should be no surprise that sin can make this whole thing seem out of control. I know the older I got, the harder it was to maintain a good relationship with my parents, especially because of pride. It was like life was a whole quest to be better than them and others. I feel like I should have respected them more. I fell into sins that I didn’t know how to get out of, but I didn’t think they were a big deal because I didn’t see that I was committing them. It’s hard to admit this, but I totally thought “I’m not doing anything wrong with my boyfriend because we love each other and we are going to get married anyways.” I was in denial about my life. Perhaps this is you too.

School doesn’t help much either sometimes. I remember HOURS of homework every night. In math mainly. Raise your hand if you think it’s a lot of work and all the pressure to succeed feels like you’re drowning. “Where can I add Jesus into the midst of all this?” you may wonder. If you can fit Him in, you wonder where all the answers to your problems are. There is no time and you are in a rush. I remember feeling like I wasn’t getting anything from Jesus, like there was this one sided thing going on. “Jesus, I just want this, this, this, and this.”

It took me awhile, but I finally realized it’s not about what we can get from Jesus. He’s not a magic genie and relationships don’t work that way. It’s a give and take, a two-way street. It takes communication and I knew that it was my end of the line that needed help. I needed to stop acting like I didn’t want to put in the effort and take time to make my relationship with Christ worthwhile. Like with my parents, I needed to stop giving Jesus my attitude and lay down my pride at His feet. I needed to stop saying I was too busy and ask Him what His will was for my life. I needed to let Him hold me like my parents did when I was little and let Him love me. I needed to know that my identity was not caught up in all the answers that I sought, but in just being with Him.

This is one reason why Eucharistic Adoration has had such a big impact on my life. It’s a chance for me to just be with Jesus and let Him love me. I can deepen my relationship with Him face to face and it’s transformed the way I look at the Mass. I encourage you to sit with Jesus for a little while.

Something Greater than Spinach is Here

by Spencer Hargadon

Growing up I hated spinach.  Raw, sautéed, or steamed… all of them were gross.  Then my parents played a card I couldn’t resist.  They told me that if I ate spinach I’d be big and strong like Popeye!  Suddenly, the second grossest vegetable (Brussel sprouts were definitely worse) tasted much better.  Since then I’ve like spinach and will eat it in any form (especially spinach artichoke dip or saag paneer, for my friends who know Indian food!)  However, my physique is far from intimidating. 

So what happened?!?  Why didn’t the spinach work?  The answer seems kind of simple.  Yes, I ate the stuff, but there was more to it than just downing a can of spinach.  Yet, we take this “just eat spinach” attitude with our faith sometimes.  We want one simple prayer or one easy habit to make us merciful and strong like Jesus.

This desire for ease is not new, but counting on ease can be a great source of discouragement.  That first time that Jesus captivated our attention and revolutionized our lives it all seemed so easy, just like Popeye downing a can of spinach to save Olive Oil.  At some point, though, we encounter a side of our faith that requires perseverance.  When interviewing Chris Padgett, I asked him what a day in his spiritual life looked like.  He candidly answered “It is a grind.”  Paul described it this way, “Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.  No, I drive my body and train it” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

Hebrews then expands on this analogy, but also helps give us a solution for what to do.  In Hebrews we find, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).  This is the beauty of events like Encounter Cincinnati.  We gather together as witnesses, Reconciliation is made available to us, and our Eucharistic Lord is placed before our eyes to help us persevere in running the faith.  So this Lent, let us make a great effort to come together on March 12. 

Additionally, we should not forget that Christ took the form of bread because He is not just the object of our worship, He is also our nourishment.  We have something far greater than Popeye’s spinach here, we are nourished and strengthened by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.  He is our viaticum, our food for the way.