Monday, March 30, 2009

JESUS is there with us in our suffering

JESUS, I trust in YOU.

There are many thoughts and blessings swirling around within me. Come Holy Spirit and guide me - not my words, but Yours.

For those of you following this blog, what are your thoughts?
How has God been speaking to you and how have you responded?
Please comment and share your stories. They will be inspiration for others.

We are all on the same journey toward heaven, struggling along at times to do what is right, "working out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).
Do we trust in Jesus?
Do we truly believe He is there with us every step of the way?
Do we comprehend His unconditional love for us?
Do we accept that love and live according to it?

Take a few minutes and gaze upon the crucifix. (if you don't have one, now is a good time to get one!) Meditate on Jesus Christ's enormous love and mercy.

As we get closer to celebrating His resurrection on Easter, let us take time to reflect on His suffering and death on the cross for us "while we were still sinners" (Romans 5:8).
We are not alone in our daily trials. Jesus is right there with us. That is why we have the crucifix front and center in the Catholic Church - as a reminder of Christ's love and sacrifice for us. Through His cross, we can find meaning and solidarity.

We don't suffer in this life because God is punishing us. We suffer because of our sinfulness. Our suffering can bear great fruit. Think of the times in your life where you have really grown in your faith. Has it been when the road has been paved with roses and everything is going your way? Or has spiritual growth occurred when the road had many potholes and there was problem after another? Remember, problems are really just miracles in disguise!

One gentleman we have come to know in the park said to me last week, "I've been high up and now I'm down low. I know God has a plan, but I wonder what he thinks of me right now."
I replied, "I don't know God's plan for you, but I do know that Jesus loves you very much right now. He loves you just as much now as He did when you had a home and a job. He always loves you, no matter what." I don't know about you, but I can't bear to see a brother or sister wondering if God loves them.

Most of us have struggled at times (and still do!) believing that our Heavenly Father loves us. He loves all of us - even those who appear to be very lost.

At Mass during the Eucharistic liturgy, the priest prays these words - "when we were lost and far from You, You loved us even more." What comfort!

For believers, it is our duty to share with others how much Jesus loves them. Ultimately, each one of us has to open the door for Him and accept His love, but He is always there knocking and waiting - loyal and faithful to the very end.

Following is a beautiful prayer that I pray each day, compliments of Mother Theresa.

Jesus is the Word made Flesh.
Jesus is the Bread of Life.
Jesus is the Victim offered for our sins on the Cross.
Jesus is the Sacrifice at Holy Mass
for the sins of the world and mine.
Jesus is the Word - to be spoken.
Jesus is the Truth - to be told.
Jesus is the Way - to be walked.
Jesus is the Light - to be lit.
Jesus is the Life - to be loved.
Jesus is the Joy - to be shared.
Jesus is the Sacrifice - to be given.
Jesus is the Bread of Life - to be eaten.
Jesus is the Hungry - to be fed.
Jesus is the Thirsty - to be satiated.
Jesus is the Naked - to be clothed.
Jesus is the Homeless - to be taken in.
Jesus is the Sick - to be healed.
Jesus is the Lonely - to be loved.
Jesus is the Unwanted - to be wanted.
Jesus is the Leper - to wash his wounds.
Jesus is the Beggar - to give him a smile.
Jesus is the Drunkard - to listen to him.
Jesus is the Little One - to embrace him.
Jesus is the Dumb - to speak to him.
Jesus is the Crippled - to walk with him.
Jesus is the Drug Addict - to befriend him.
Jesus is the Prostitute - to remove from danger and befriend her.
Jesus is the Prisoner - to be visited.
Jesus is the Old - to be served.
To me Jesus is my God,
Jesus is my Spouse,
Jesus is my Life,
Jesus is my only Love,
Jesus is my All in All,
Jesus is my Everything.

JESUS, I trust in YOU.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Charity and Justice

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice"- Nelson Mandel

The virtue of justice touches on many aspects of the moral life. It springs from the fundamental obligation to give others their due. When individuals do this for one another, we call this justice.
This is why some people have said that charity and kindness to the poor are not just charity but also justice.

The Bible is full of encouragement to be charitable. The good wife of Proverbs 31 is commended because “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. In Deuteronomy 15, God’s people are told “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy.” Jesus, too, calls us to compassionate charity and justice for those neighbors who need it.

What is the justice that we "owe" our neighbor? Who is our neighbor?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is defined universally to be any suffering person, not just a member of the same country, race or faith. Jesus said "the one who showed mercy on him" proved to be his neighbor. (Luke 10:29-37)

Fr. Benedict Groeschel had this to say in his book The Virtue Driven Life :
"Christian justice causes us to give to God what is due Him and, within that understanding, to give to others what is due them as children of God. Christians have a much greater responsibility to justice. We must be more aware of the fact that we all accidentally participate in injustice, that we are well-off because others are poor, and that without ever willing it, we reap the fruits of economic exploitation and impoverishment.

If you feel guilty about some of this injustice, then generosity is a great way out, especially if you're not looking for too much thanks. We could begin with generosity with those who work in restaurants, taxi drivers, and others who work for tips. We can make a habit of showing generosity toward those who work at menial jobs and who are often not treated well. And we can support laws that give a better chance to those who are victims of injustice."

Be faithful. Start today. Start right with the person in front of you - at home, in your office, in school, in traffic, in the store, in church. True, we must be charitable on a global level, but it's important that we look at the person in front of us -one face, one smile, one heart, one person at a time.
We may not be successful at first. In fact, we probably won't see the fruits of our efforts. In our human minds, this is hard to register since we are told that success equals self-worth - constantly bombarded with messages and images of worldly success on billboards, TV adds, magazine pages...
They all cry out - how successful are you? If we can't see our success or measure it, then we must be a failure. But, no, we are not failures if we step out in faith and try. If we are laughed at or shrugged off, then that is an opportunity to grow in the virtue of humility and fortitude!

As Mother Theresa said so many times, "We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful."

Lord Jesus, you who willed to become poor,
give us eyes and a heart directed toward the poor;
help us recognize you in them --
in their thirst, their hunger, their loneliness, and their misfortune.

Enkindle within our Christian Family
the virtues of charity, justice and humility

Strengthen us, so that faithful to the practice of these virtues,
we may contemplate you and serve you in the person of the poor,
and may one day be united with you and them in your Kingdom.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Embracing poverty and humilty

"For the Christian there is no stranger. Whoever is near us and needing us must be "our neighbor"; it does not matter whether he is related to us or not, whether we like him or not, whether he is morally worthy of our help or not.
The love of Christ knows no limits. It never ends; it does not shrink from ugliness and filth. He came for sinners, not for the just. And if the love of Christ is in us we shall do as He did and seek the lost sheep."
- Edith Stein, Selected Writings of Edith Stein

An amazing thing happens when we strip ourselves of our possessions, admit our sinfulness and acknowledge our need for a Savior - Jesus Christ. We can no longer see ourselves as more important than anyone else. We become simple children of God - equals.

This world of excess materialism keeps us at bay from one another because it tries to get us to look through a "have or have-not" lens when we are called to look through the lens of Christ.
If you have more than me, does that make you better, smarter or more motivated?
If she takes the bus and I drive a Honda, does that mean I'm more favored?

"The commercial advertisements that fuel television deliver one common message: Do not be satisfied with what you have - only more "stuff" can make you happy." -excerpt from When Did I See You Hungry?
Of course, it doesn't take long to look around and see that more stuff does NOT make us happy, only more in debt and still longing for the only ONE Who can fill our emptiness. When we take more than we need, we are, in essence, stealing from those who do not have enough.
Yes, I can be as guilty as the next person, but it's the questions/prayers we ask ourselves and our God when we think we need something that can make the difference in how we live.

Lord, give bread to the hungry and hunger for You to those who have bread.

There is but one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:6)
That means that if you call God - Father, then the young man taking his daily "bath" in the gas station bathroom is our brother. The woman in the Philippines living in a shack alongside the railroad tracks is our sister.

The pregnant mother who's husband has just left her with three kids and is now seeking an abortion because she feels lost and alone is our sister. She needs our compassion and help. She needs to hear the truth - that abortion is murder and will only make her feel worse - physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The inward parts of the leper in Brazil were formed in her mother's womb in the same way as mine. The man suffering from addiction on the streets of Grand Rapids was made in secret by the same God who made you and me.

Our God, who knows the number of hairs on my head also knows the number of hairs on the mother's head in Kenya who is suffering from AIDS. Does she deserve to have her hand held and her brow wiped any less than you or I do?

Jesus came for the children living on garbage heaps in India, just as He did for our children.
Justice requires that these children have enough food to eat and a place free from danger to sleep, but justice often times goes by the wayside when it means sacrifice on our part.

I recently met a man - unemployed and living in the mission - who drove his car after drinking too much twelve years ago. He was caught and arrested.
In my youth, I also drove a car after drinking too much - too many times. I was not caught. This man still has a police record that will follow him around for the rest of his life. Even though he has done his time, he will not be forgiven by many in this world. He has been forgiven by Christ, but how about by us? Isn't that what our faith commands us to do?

It is only through our eyes which Christ's compassion can look upon the earth. Are we looking through His lens or is that too inconvenient?

Are we denying ourselves daily and taking up our cross or have we passed it off to others in the world who already have too many crosses to bear and no one to help ease their burden?

We brush the homeless from our minds because their misery might disturb our otherwise beautiful day. How beautiful can our day be when we refuse to acknowledge and take action for our brothers and sisters who are hurting?

Yes, it's true - The scope of poverty and hunger can be overwhelming to us. That's no reason to stop us from starting.
Years ago, my friend, Jim Flickinger, said, "I can't do everything, but I will do everything I can." This is a beautiful motto because each one of us is called to embrace each other in our daily walk. We have all been called upon to give.

Jesus embraced simplicity, poverty and humility. What do we embrace?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

rich man-poor man

Jesus is very clear on how we are to treat the poor. Whether it's poor in spirit or poor materially, our Savior doesn't mince words. We can't pray for the poor inside church without acting on our prayers outside of church. Jesus shows how our souls are at stake in today's Gospel from Luke 16:19-31 show us...

Jesus said to the Pharisees:"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linenand dined sumptuously each day.And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scrapsthat fell from the rich man's table.Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.When the poor man died,he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.The rich man also died and was buried,and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far offand Lazarus at his side.And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me.Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,for I am suffering torment in these flames.'Abraham replied, 'My child,remember that you received what was good during your lifetimewhile Lazarus likewise received what was bad;but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is establishedto prevent anyone from crossingwho might wish to go from our side to yoursor from your side to ours.'He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send himto my father's house,for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,lest they too come to this place of torment.'But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets.Let them listen to them.'He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham,but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'Then Abraham said,'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,neither will they be persuadedif someone should rise from the dead.'" Luke 16:19-31

Who in my life is poor (at heart, in spirit, etc...) and needs love and care?

Loving Father, help us to look through Your Eyes and live in union with Your Heart towards those around us. Amen.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thank you for rain, Jesus

With the onset of spring comes the rain. Oh, glorious rain! The rhythmic sound of drop after drop upon our roof as we go about our daily business sounds like sweet music.
Who doesn't love a good rainstorm when we're inside looking out - curled up in our favorite chair with hot tea and a book? Or setting at our place of employment all secure and dry?
We're comfortable enjoying God's creation. Bring on the thunder and lightning!

Envision the same rainstorm but instead we're outside. It's chilly as we huddle in a vacant doorway. The lightning flashes and the puddles grow deeper. Our pant legs are getting soaked, along with our only pair of shoes that we can't get out of until we return to the mission in six hours. Oh, if only we had that comfortable chair and hot tea now.

Those two scenes are from different people. Different in this world, yet not so in God's eyes.
Now, intertwine the people in those scenes, and we come up with lunch in the park last Saturday. Every day in the park is different, but God stays the same - faithful, loving and always in control.

The rain poured down, but by His grace, we were prepared! We stuck a large beach umbrella up over a bench and had a couple large umbrellas for use. We still didn't comprehend the awesome time God had planned.

We hope and pray each week that more brothers and sisters will feel the love of God and be comfortable eating lunch with us. Some do. Others step off to another corner of the park. Regardless of what happens, I trust that God is working. Still, I am weak and want to know if seeds we plant will bear fruit. This is a flaw in me from which I seek deliverance, because I know we're supposed to walk by faith, not by sight.

This day, a beautiful thing happened... since we had raincoats and knew we could get warm and dry later, we held out the umbrellas for our brothers and sisters to stand under and eat.
So many came and stayed under the umbrellas to eat, keep dry and talk with us. They allowed us to care for them, which was a huge honor. Had it been day without rain, I could tell some of them would have gone off to eat by themselves. God made a way for us all to interact on a more intimate level because of the rain. My words do not do justice. I am continually amazed that people want to spend time with us each week. Yes, free lunch is the avenue, but that they would open themselves up to share their lives is such a priviledge.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie, Facing the Giants, where Mr. Bridges comes into Coach Taylor’s office and tells him a parable about two farmers who desperately needed rain. Both farmers prayed for rain but only one of them went out and prepared his fields to receive the rain. Mr. Bridges asks, “Which one trusted God to send the rain?”

“The one who prepared,” replied the coach.

“God will send the rain when He’s ready. You need to prepare your fields to receive it,” states Mr. Bridges.

We prepared for fellowship in the rain by bringing umbrellas along with the food because we trust that each Saturday God has a plan. We cannot rely on our own understanding, but instead place our trust in Him. This week, let us "prepare our field" and wait for His miraculous grace to pour down upon us. We just may find blessings disguised as a rainstorm.

Thank you for all your prayers for those in need and for us. Please continue to pray that we stay humble and do His Will. Pray also that our brothers/sisters in need of housing and jobs find Christ along the way to the independence they seek.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!