|I hope you are able to get outside and enjoy the sunshine today – it is looking like we are in for another beautiful weekend here in Charlevoix!
Have a wonderful weekend!!
There have been many times in my life where I have just felt so overwhelmed and overcome by fear, or stress, because of situations that I could not control, or relationships that were not working the way that I was hoping they would, or because of mistakes that I had made.
I remember one such day about six years ago. I was the Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral in Gaylord, one of our larger parishes in the diocese. It had been such a busy day and I was just struggling to get things done and feeling like a failure in so many ways.
As a priest or a minister, we are pulled in so many different directions sometimes, and what really hurts, at least for me, is not being able to give more, not being able to do more for someone, or to desire to do things perfectly in each situation and want to completely finish things up in one place before having to run off to the next thing.
As a closet perfectionist, I remember not knowing how to handle and balance that frustration.
On that one particular evening, I felt like I couldn’t tread water anymore and I was starting to sink below the surface; feeling like I wanted to give up.
I was in the sacristy at St. Thomas Aquinas in Elmira, a small parish that is serviced by the priests at the Cathedral. I was getting ready for the 5 p.m. Tuesday Mass, and like many times before, I had not had a chance to even look at the readings before Mass, and felt like I was going in completely unprepared.
I had more than had it with my weaknesses; my busyness; the demands of the priestly life. I was so tired of everything. I looked up to the crucifix to let Jesus know how frustrated I was. Instead, He caught my eyes and my heart in an instant. When I looked at Him, hanging there on the cross, all I could say was, “Oh, yeah.”
It was kind of an “Ah ha” moment, but also a surrender to the reality of the Cross at the same time. Jesus instantaneously turned my internal turmoil into inspiration. It was as if He was saying “Remember, this is what the Cross looks like. This is what I have called you to.” There was also this beautiful and added element of His promise to be with me. It was almost as if He added in that one instant both inspiration to embrace the Cross, as well as a reminder; “I am with you always. Keep your eyes on me.” With that I also had my homily instantaneously ready. Boom! Jesus pulled that one off like a rock star! All I could literally do was say in my head, “Oh, yeah,” and take a deep breath, and sigh a tear-filled “Thank you.” It happened so fast, but changed my entire outlook in the snap of a finger. All it took was a gaze upon Jesus.
In Chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus works some beautiful and unbelievable miracles. First of all, He feeds possibly tens of thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. Then, He walks on the water to join his friends who were on a boat heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
In this particular episode, Jesus comes walking toward his disciples on the sea and in their fear they think that He is a ghost. The Gospel states “At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got in to the boat, the wind died down” (Matthew 14:27-32).
This story is such a powerful one for me, partially because I identify a lot with the apostle Peter. I am named after him, but it’s more than that. I love how his humanity really comes through in both glorious moments of courage and desire, and in painful moments of failure and brokenness. Peter gives me such encouragement!
To think that our first Pope was so human, so weak, yet we see what he becomes through the grace of Christ. In this particular story of Peter, he at first is bold and believing and does not hesitate to step out of the boat. How long did it take for him to notice the wind and the waves of the storm and begin to fear?
And you really just wonder why would he begin to fear? He was literally walking on water! Who can ever say they have done that before!? But like many other times, Peter shows us his weak humanity.
Meanwhile, Jesus teaches us all a wonderful lesson. He says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As if to say “Do not look at the storm, do not focus on the troubles; the struggles; the suffering, but rather look at me and do not doubt that I will sustain you. I will help you stay above the storm.” What is also very powerful for me is that even though Peter did not have the faith in Jesus to sustain himself above the water, he did believe that Jesus could keep him from sinking. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” and “Immediately” it says, “Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter.” This is what I felt happened to me in that sacristy. Jesus immediately reached out and caught me and reminded me that I can do nothing without Him. However, with Him sustaining my life, I can walk on water. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
My encouragement for you all is to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and believe that He is your strength who will help you to accomplish things that are impossible for you to do on your own. Look up to Him on the Cross and see your Savior. Cry out to Him, “Lord, save me!” Let Him be the one to raise you and keep you above the storm.
There have been many times in my life when I have let fear get the best of me. In days like we are living in I am sure there are plenty of people who know fear to be a regular reoccurring theme. All it takes is a little nightly news.
Some may be wondering, “Is this it for our country?” Or perhaps “Will things ever get back to normal?” Or even, “Are we experiencing the end times?” I wish I knew the answers to these questions. With a world-wide pandemic, floods, locust swarms devastating crops and food supply from East Africa to Pakistan, as well as Argentina, social unrest, etc., one certainly wonders. The Lord does tell us that no one knows the hour, nor the day when the end will come, yet there are certainly signs all around us. We also know that according to scripture, there will be an end of this world and tribulations that come toward the end. The Lord warns us about these tribulations in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). So what are we to make of all this. Again, I wish I knew all the answers to these questions, because it is frightening to think about.
Jesus gives us great comfort in this weekends readings for Sunday Mass when He says to us in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39). I suppose if you think about it, this passage does not promise that we will not experience, anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or the sword, but rather that these things cannot separate us from the love of Christ. In a certain sense the Lord is trying to encourage us not to be afraid. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of John, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
What these passages encourage in me is a desire to seek the Lord all the more and to be ready for whatever comes. I think that only He can get us to that level of trust in Him that we need. Only He can help us arrive at the peace that we are ultimately seeking. Jesus is our constant and our savior, not ourselves. I think we so often forget who we belong to. We are God’s children, and He wants to take care of us, which ultimately means that He wants to bring us to participate in the fullness of divine life in heaven. To get there all of us have to suffer and to die. “In the world you have tribulation,” but these tribulations and sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us in heaven. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Heaven and the fullness of life that we will experience with God makes the temporary sufferings in the life look like nothing, and I would say completely worth going through if that means bringing us closer to Christ.
All of this helps me to put things in perspective. Yes, even for me, to think about the end of the world is not fun, or to think that we might be that generation that experiences the apocalypse. Again, I make no claim to know, and I do not speak of any of this to engender fear, but rather to dispel it. The Lord reminds us 365 times in the bible, “Do not be afraid.” This means that everyday of the year there is nothing to fear. If we know that we the one belong to is the master of all time and space, if we repent of our sins against Him and turn to Him with great confidence and trust in His mercy, then we have confidence in His promises of eternal life and love. Nothing can separate us from His love. It is always there for us, always ready for us to respond in kind, always desiring us to turn to Him. Without Him, we have nothing and we do not have peace in the face of tribulation, but with Him, with His love and with His promises of heaven, we can remain always at peace and always ready for whatever comes.
So my advice in the midst of troubled times would be to turn to the Lord and to His love, which is always there and to entrust again and again your life and your heart to Him. He may not take away the physical pain or tribulation, but will keep your heart at peace knowing that His love will see you through.
Baseball was my favorite sport when I was a kid.
Growing up on a farm, we had a very large yard that was very good for all kinds of games. I remember playing baseball all the time in the summer. Our bases were not your typical white squares. I’m pretty sure first base was an old well down by the horse corral. Second base was in the middle of the yard, which we would mark with anything we could find. Third base was an outdoor water pump up toward the house. Home base was just a dirt spot where grass refused to grow since we played baseball there so much.Baseball topped probably everything for me. It may have taken second place only to food once in a while. My parents knew that it was my favorite and would use it to trick me into doing things or to discipline me.
I remember one evening after dinner, I did not want to help with the dishes and so suddenly had a stomach ache, which I began to complain about. My dad was not too amused, but he asked if I wanted to play baseball instead. Suddenly the stomach ache was gone and I excitedly said “Yes!” So he had everyone go get all their baseball stuff, we were all going to go play. I’m sure some of the kids were excited, while others were probably rolling their eyes. No sooner had we gotten all the bats and gloves, stepped out onto the porch and walked down the steps, when dad turned to me and said, “now wait a minute, if you can play baseball, then you certainly can wash the dishes. Come on, back inside.” I was so confused, but I suppose a 7 or 8 year old would be. It dawned on me much later that he was being tricksy the whole time.
He was teaching me an important lesson though. I cannot just play all day, I have to help out even when I do not feel like it. Thinking back on this so many years later, I can see that my priorities were far from perfect. Again, I was 7, but nevertheless, my pearl of great price was a sport. In the Gospel this weekend the Lord tells us “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:44-46). The Lord reminds us in this way that His kingdom and His life that he offers us is worth everything that we have and all that we are. He wants our whole lives to belong to Him. I think that so often we think that if we give everything over to the Lord, we will have nothing left for ourselves. Actually with Him we have everything we need and He will give us what our hearts really long for.
In the first reading from this Sunday we hear from 1 Kings, Solomon, who has just become the king of Israel came before the Lord and asked Him, “O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give you servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9).
Because Solomon did not ask the Lord for riches, or long life, or really anything for himself, the Lord blessed Him and gave him what he asked for and much much more. He said to Solomon in reply, “Because you have asked for this— not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one equal to you. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for, such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like. And if you follow me by keeping my statutes and commandments, as your father David did, I will give you long a life also” (1 Kings 3:10-15).
It becomes clear that Solomon was pure in his motives and wanted to fulfill his duties as king, which the Lord had given to Him, to the full, even beyond what he thought himself capable of. Instead of being self-serving, He sought after what the Lord would certainly want for Him. The gift of understanding was worth more to Him than all the trappings that come with royal life. It was his pearl of great price. Because he sought it and it was truly what the Lord wanted for Him, not only did He receive it, but also, much more blessing that he had not asked for.
In my own life I know the Lord’s goodness to be so. He has within himself infinite life, love, goodness, joy, blessings, truth, peace, etc., which means he has quite a bit to spare. Moreover, He wants to share it all with us. He shows us this by giving his life completely out of love for us on the Cross. In light of all this, and considering that I haven’t played baseball in almost a decade, I would say it is probably better to learn early what my priorities should be and to search true pearls of great price.
I think we seek after things that are so cheap and empty sometimes, while the Lord wants to give us fine pearls, representative of himself. When we seek Him, what does He tell us? “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). The Lord is our Pearl of greatest price, worth everything I have and am, worth my whole life and more. When I give it all to Him, and seek to follow Him, He blesses me beyond anything I could have thought possible, not necessarily with material things, so much as with blessings and fullness of the heart. Seek Him and you will have your pearl.
Our Garden Ministry has been hard at work around campus, the blooms are beautiful this year! A big THANK YOU to Kathy Rische and the Garden Ministry team for all of your hard work!