Monthly Archives: March 2016

Why Do You Believe?

After Mary Magdalene reported to Peter and “the other disciple” that Jesus’ body had been taken from the tomb, they ran to the tomb.  Peter went in first and found the strips of linen lying there along with the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.  Then the other disciple went in, and the Apostle John reports of himself, “He saw and believed.” (John 20:8)  

What was the reason for John’s belief?

Did he now recall the times when Jesus had explicitly said he must suffer, die and be raised from the dead?  Was it because of his close relationship with Jesus that he now had an epiphany, connecting Jesus’ past words with the experience of seeing an empty tomb?  The answer is that we don’t know for sure and can only speculate, but it does trigger the question of what is the reason for our belief.

Is it because of the upbringing and training by our parents?  Is it because of our own investigation and analysis of scripture, the historical record, archeological discoveries and scripture scholar commentaries?  Is it a combination of one or more these things PLUS God’s grace?  

I believe that God created us with a built in desire to look beyond our physical existence — a DNA that seeks understanding of who we are and why we exist.  As St. Augustine observed of God, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  

I was raised Baptist in the faith of my father, attending Baptist Sunday School from the time I was a toddler until age 13, at which time I became a Roman Catholic, the faith of my mother.   I never seemed to question my faith in Jesus as the son of God, born a real human person of the Virgin Mary.  I readily accepted that he suffered the horrible death of crucifixion and was raised to new life by the power of God.

As an adult there was a time when my faith began to take a back seat to my career.  Then one October evening I met the person of Jesus in a very personal and real way, and subsequently experienced the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

What was the reason for this renewal of my faith?  Was it the frustration with the sin and disorder in my life and the willingness to change?  Was it the example of my wife coming home from a Life in the Spirit Seminar full of joy four nights in a row? Was it the prayers of my wife and a devout mother?  Was it God’s love and grace?

I believe it was all of the above, but God’s grace was the driving force.  God may use a particular circumstance, the words of a friend or stranger, an experience of failure or suffering, the words heard in a scripture or a sermon, or the forgiveness and love of a friend.  Like John, God wants all of us to see the empty tomb and believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead, conquering death and equipping us to live a life serving God and one another with love and truth.

“Crucify Him!”

If you were present at Jesus’ trial, where would you see yourself?  

Would it be with the disciples who fearfully followed at a distance?  Would it have been with Pontius Pilate who found no basis for the charges brought against Jesus, but did not have the courage to resist the crowd’s demands for crucifixion?  Would it have been with the crowd shouting, “Crucify him?”

If I had never met Jesus, I would have likely been with the crowd.  Have I not demonstrated my lack of support for Jesus in my sins?  Have I not denied him in my failure to love and serve others on various occasions?

Even if I had met Jesus, I would have been no different than the disciples, following at a distance out of fear, or like Pontius Pilate, going along with the crowd.  How many times have I failed to speak up for Jesus or my Catholic faith in a hostile environment?

Unfortunately, the crowd seldom gets it right.  How often do we see conventional wisdom that is not wise, popular opinion that does not reflect the truth, and consensus that leads to the wrong result?  

Lest we think that the opinions of the crowd are not becoming more hostile to our Christian faith, a recent study by the Barna Group released in February, found that 45% of non-religious adults (atheists, agnostics and religiously unaffiliated) agree with the statement that “Christianity is extremist.”   More than 50 % of all U. S. adults were found to believe that the following practices were “very” or “somewhat” extreme: attempting to convert others to their faith; teaching their children that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are morally wrong; praying out loud in public for a stranger; or protesting government policies that conflict with their religion.

So, how do we resist the crowd of our culture that is becoming increasingly prone to crucify Jesus in its actions and beliefs?  Acknowledge and repent of our sins, commit or recommit our lives to Jesus Christ and seek the release of the power of the Holy Spirit received in our baptism.

It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us, gives us the courage and the power to resist both the crowd and sin.  It wasn’t until I personally experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit in my life that I was given understanding, motivation and power that makes it now possible for me to resist the crowd.  I am still capable of stumbling if I don’t stay close to Jesus in daily prayer, the sacraments and surround myself with other like-minded Christian brothers and sisters.  But with God’s grace and mercy through the Holy Spirit, I am better equipped to say no to the crowd and yes to Jesus.

The crowd yelled, “Crucify him!” But the crowd got it wrong.  God redeemed the wrong and took the cross, a symbol of Roman cruelty and oppression, and transformed it into a symbol of love, sacrifice and hope.

“I Am Doing a New Thing”

Do you like to hold on to things of the past?  

While some memories may be pleasant to recall, past hurts and sins can be painful.  Dwelling on them can lead to anger, resentment and self-condemnation.  Isaiah says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God’s work did not end with his creation.  Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  (John 5:17)  God never stops creating.  He is constantly doing new things.  Through his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, he loves, forgives, teaches, heals and guides.  He also invites us to join with him in taking care of his creation.  In all of this he is always looking forward, not backward.

Our sin interferes with God’s creation and work, but fortunately God provides a remedy through repentance and forgiveness.  Once we acknowledge our sin and seek to change, God offers forgiveness.  Sometimes even though we have repented of sin and received forgiveness, we have difficulty letting go of our sin.  Since sin often has consequences, sometimes these consequences keep reminding us of our past sin.

While it is natural to regret our past sin and mistakes, once we acknowledge them and are forgiven, it is time for us to move on. That is what God does.  Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her and that she should go and sin no more. (John 8:11)  While I still have regret for some of my past sins, I have moved on and seek to live the life that God is calling me to live today.

That life includes loving and caring for my wife of 52 years, supporting an adult child with special needs, and being available to love and encourage four other adult children who are raising families of their own.  It includes being a good steward of the time, talents and resources God has made available to me to serve him in family, work and ministry.

In each of these areas, God is always seeking to do something new to further his kingdom on this earth.  As spring approaches, we see God’s constant renewal in nature, with the budding of trees and the popping of daffodils out of the soil.  So to with us, he is always seeking to do something new – providing  new opportunities for us to love, forgive, teach, heal, guide – always looking forward, advancing his creation “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  (2 Cor. 5:17)  May we embrace God’s desire to do a new thing in us each day.   

Being Washed by Jesus

How willing are you to be served?

As Jesus came to Peter at the Last Supper to wash his feet, Peter said, “’You shall never wash my feet.’  Jesus replied, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’”  (John 13:8)

How hard it is for us to accept being served by someone in authority, particularly when the service involves a menial task usually done by a slave or servant!  It upsets our paradigm.  A servant serves his master.  An employee serves his or her boss.  Jesus, the master and teacher, was turning that paradigm upside down.  Peter was the first to proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God.  How could he allow the Son of God to wash his feet?  Unthinkable!

From earliest childhood, we are taught to be self-sufficient.  A young child proudly proclaims, “I did it by myself.”  One of the challenges of a disabling illness or injury is having to depend on someone else to do things for you that you would ordinarily do yourself.

Several years ago our family was traveling from New York to the Midwest.  We alerted a former friend from law school and his wife that we would like to stop by to see them.  They expected us to stay with them overnight, but we decided to check into a motel, not wanting to impose upon them.  They were offended, interpreting our decision as a rejection of their offer of hospitality.  To use Jesus’ words, we were rejecting having a “part” with them.

Like so many of Jesus’ words and actions, his example offers multiple lessons for us.  While we need to be willing to receive service, it is even more important for us to serve.  When the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest, Jesus told them that “whoever wants to be great among you, must be your servant.”  He also reminded them that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Matthew 20:26, 28)

In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, he tells the following story.  At a special reception Truman held for Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam Peace Conference near the end of World War II, Sergeant Eugene List, an American concert pianist, played a Chopin waltz.  List asked if someone in the audience would be good enough to turn the pages.  Truman jumped to his feet, waived off another volunteer and did the job himself.  In a letter to his wife, List later wrote, “Imagine having the President of the United States turn the pages for you!…But that’s the kind of man the President is.”  

May we choose to follow both lessons from Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples – having a desire to love and serve the people in our lives, and responding with gracious acceptance when being served by others.

Holding Up Our Leaders

How do you support people in leadership – bosses, community and government leaders, pastors, etc.?   

The Book of Exodus reports that when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in the desert at Rephidim, Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised and the staff of God in his hands.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but when he lowered his hands the Amalekites gained in the fight.  So Aaron and Hur had Moses sit on a rock and they held up his hands until sunset, and the Israelites won the battle. (Exodus 17:8-16)

A number of years ago in my morning prayer time, I found myself praying for my boss who headed up the legal department of the marketing and refining operations for a large international oil company employing several hundred lawyers.  He was an exacting boss, but a good person with great integrity.

While praying, I received the thought, “Why are you limiting your prayers just for your direct boss – why not his boss and the entire management team including the CEO and board of directors?  Pray for wisdom, integrity and love in how they oversee the operations of the company.  Your prayers can impact areas and operations of the company far beyond your immediate responsibilities and sphere of influence.”

At the time, this was a new revelation to me.  As Christians in the workplace, we have the opportunity through prayer to impact more than just the confines of our particular job or position.  We can intercede for God’s grace to impact even our bosses and the decisions they make.  We may not always see the direct results of our prayers, but we should never underestimate the power and influence they bring to the workplace.

Praying for our leaders is a way for us to hold up their hands in the battle they face in doing their jobs with righteousness, integrity and excellence. 

All kinds of leaders need our prayers.  Pastors and spiritual leaders are in particular need of our prayer support.  One of the first statements Pope Francis made after his election as he greeted the throngs in St. Peter’s Square was the request for people to pray for him.  He continues to repeat this request to nearly every individual and group he meets.

Governmental leaders also need our prayer support.  Their positions make them especially vulnerable to temptations involving pride and corruption.  Regardless of my respective politics, I regularly pray for the president’s protection, righteousness, wisdom and humility.  Remember the words of Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, “Work for the good of the country to which I have exiled you; pray to Yahweh on its behalf, since on its welfare yours depends.” (Jeremiah 29:7 JB)

Like Aaron and Hur, let us support the hands of our bosses, pastors, and leaders in community and government with our ongoing intercession and prayer.