Monday, December 31, 2012

Being Thankful. . . Looking back.

As I sit in the coffee shop in Lake Leelanau, MI wrapping up some work on the last day of the year, I can't help but reflect back on what a great year it has been overall.  Were there challenges?  Sure.  Were there certain disappointments at time either professionally or personally?  Yes.  But, I choose to focus on the positives.  I choose to focus on what went well instead of what didn't.  Life is full of ups and downs, but overall it is our choice as to what we focus on and I choose to focus on all the great things.  Here are just a few things that I have to be thankful for:

  1. At the top of the list has to be the adoption of our son, Colten.  The situation came out of tragedy for the family, but has truly been a blessing.  God works in mysterious ways and I love this little guy more than I could have ever imagined possible.  He is pure joy.  
  2. The love of my little girl.  She grows up more and more every day, but I feel so fortunate that she loves me.  This year was her First Confession and I was so proud of how her faith and understanding of God has grown.   
  3. My wife, who has been such a great mother to both of our kids.  I could not do what she does, and I love her for the love that she has given this family.  She is much more patient than I, and I could never do all of this without her.  She is a good partner in life.  
  4. A family, both mine and my wife's, that has been a part of our life and many changes we've enjoyed this year.  
  5. A good job.  In this time when our economy is still struggling, I'm fortunate and thankful to have a career that allows me to provide for my family. 
  6. Friends who are there no matter what.  
  7. Last, but most important, my faith.  This has been such an important year for me in my faith.  As I participated in Abby's First Reconciliation preparation, I found my faith growing again.  I got closer to God and the Church, and it has been such an important part of my life.  I pray more, I think about how God would want me to live my life, and truly feel I have grown spiritually over the last several months.  I am more open than I ever have been to God's hand in my life, and I am grateful to God for all the blessings He has bestowed on me and my family.  
I am looking forward to a great 2013, and leave 2012 behind with no regrets.  Dear Lord, I thank you for many blessings, and ask that I may be open to your guidance in the coming year and follow the plan you have for me.  I ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.  

Happy New Year everyone.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“Why did this happen?” A reflection on the tragedy in Newton.

It has been a difficult few days for the parents and families of those young children and adults killed in the Newton, CT shooting.    I don’t think I’ve ever been as profoundly impacted to my core as I was this time.  OKC and 9/11 were awful, but for some reason this tragedy touched me deeply.  I’m not sure if it is because of the spiritual renewal I’ve experienced this year or the fact that I’m now a father and my daughter is 7 years old – the same age as some of the children who were murdered.  In whatever event, I’ve caught myself, with news snippets, pictures, and videos on-line, coming to tears on several occasions.  My heart has actually ached for those families, yet I know it is nothing in comparison to what they are feeling.  I am grieving for them and pray that God will send them strength and comfort during this difficult time.

Many people wonder and ask, “where was God” during all of this?  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  “Did God Plan this?”  In spite of the horrendous nature of this tragedy, it is important that we recognize this for what it was – Evil.  God has given us all free will.  Free will is God’s gift to us.  Evil is in this world because of sin and it is temptation and the associated free-will that drives some people to do evil things.  We must not forget that God does not make evil happen.  People CHOSE to do evil things. 

I’ve heard others say that sometimes out of tragedy comes good, but it is hard to imagine what good can come out of this one.  I sincerely believe that many people have good in them already, and it sometimes takes an evil thing like this for those same persons to show what is already there.  There has been an outpouring of love for these victims.  And, I think that while this terrible event shows the evil and hate that humans are capable of, so does it show our capacity for deep love and compassion. 

When we or those around us question “why” this all happened, let us not forget that our Father also gave up his only Son.  He knows what it is like to lose a child.  He did it willingly in order that we all might understand the love He has for us by sacrificing His only Son for man’s salvation. 

As we approach Christmas next week, let’s all take time with our families around the dinner table to give thanks for our many blessings and to pray that God sends his grace to comfort those families and all people saddened by this tragedy.  Lord hear our prayer. . .Amen. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Fight Against Minimalism

I'll start off by saying that this is not a lecture or me telling people how they should act.  It is not my place to do so.  This is a call for change.

We are in a fight against minimalism.  What is the least amount I can do to get by?  What are the least amount of credit hours I need to graduate?  What's the least amount of work I can do to get a promotion?  What's the least amount of exercise I can do to lose weight?  Nowhere is this more evident, in my opinion, than in the Church.  Matthew Kelly does an excellent job of talking about the issue in his book titled Rediscovering Catholicism.  My post here isn't an attempt to restate his points, but rather to share some real-life examples of what I see today. 

I've been guilty, and still am at times, of "minimalism" in my life.  I am trying to become closer to God and better understand my Faith like many of you, and I think that we all have opportunities to become better Christians.  As I grow in Faith, I have become more observant of behaviors around me that are bothersome.  One example comes from an experience I had just the other day. 

My daughter is preparing for her first Reconciliation this Friday, and the parents have had preparation meetings too with our parish priest.  He has done an excellent job of explaining the Biblical theological basis for the confession of sins (something I'll be glad to help anybody understand one on one if interested).  Last night we got a bit off topic discussing how traditions have changed, and one that came up in particular was "dress" at church.  To make a long story short, our priest shared, in so many words, that he doesn't like seeing people in jeans or their Colts' Jerseys on Sunday -- that it's a matter of respect.  Most people were interested in why he felt this way, understood his point, and even said that they, going forward, won't wear jeans.  In general, the mood was light and there were a few laughs, but the group in general listened and agreed.  However, there was one mother who said, "If I see a family in front of me all wearing their Colts' jerseys I just think 'how nice' and I'm just glad they are at Church."  This statement bothered me (and I think others) immediately, but it wasn't until a few minutes had passed that I figured out why.  I didn't respond directly but later shared that I feel that we are becoming minimalists when it comes to God and we owe Him more respect (If you dress up for a wedding or funeral, shouldn't you do the same when you enter the house of our Lord?).  What do I mean by all of this?

Well, first, I'm guilty.  I've worn jeans in the past -- usually with a nice shirt, but I've worn jeans.  Father's statement made me think though that it is not just about the jeans, but about the entire attitude.  Too many people are trying to find the "shortcut" to get to Heaven and to glorify God.  Why do I need to go to Confession if I ask for forgiveness?  I attend Church some Sundays, Christmas, and Easter so isn't that enough?  Why do I need to dress up -- isn't it enough that I just come?  I give to the weekly collection, how much more do I need to give to the poor?  Why is Mass taking so long -- can't they speed it up?  In so many words, we are asking the question, "what's the least I can do to get into Heaven?"  Isn't this selfish of us?  Of course it is. 

God gave us the world.  He is our Creator.  He gave us our lives here on Earth.  He sent His only Son to die on a cross so that our sins may be forgiven and we may have eternal life.  Why do we only want to give the least amount of ourselves possible?  It is about respect, honor, and love for THE ONE to whom we owe everything.  So, whether it comes to how we dress at Church or how much of our time we give to God, why not do just a little more?  Or, a lot more?  Why not wear dress slacks, a nice shirt, and maybe even throw on a tie every now and then?  Why not pray for 15 minutes a day instead of five?  Surely we can find 10 more minutes to keep the One company who loves us more than we can comprehend.  Why not attend a Bible study once a week or go to daily mass once during the week?  How about not going to Starbucks one day and dropping an extra $5 into the collection basket?  Or, picking up an extra case of can goods at the store and delivering them to the local food shelter?  We owe our Lord more than we owe anybody else.

Many people will think I'm just being silly, but I want to be clear  -- this is not just about how somebody dresses for church.  That is just one example of minimalism and certainly does not apply to everyone, but there are many others. This is about something that is pervasive throughout our society and culture, and our relationship with God and the Church is suffering because of it.  The solution starts with all of us through living by example, teaching our kids differently, and then maybe, just maybe, others will follow.  I know, personally, I have a long way to go.  The discussion that occurred with all the parents made me reflect on my own life, where I was, where I am today, and where I want to go.  I know I'm not going to get there by doing as little as possible to show my respect, honor, and love for the Lord.  Though only God knows for certain, I would be willing to bet that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is in Heaven, and she certainly didn't get there by doing just the minimum.

So, during this Advent Season, slow down, make time for the Lord, and pray. . . just a bit more.

God Bless you all. 

Disclaimer:  I think dress code at Church is probably the least of the problems, but serves as an example.  If you are going to wear jeans, then just do so with a nice shirt, shoes, and actually take a shower in the morning.  :-) 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Happy New Year – An Opportunity to Prepare

Happy New Year??  What are you talking about Jeremy?

This last Sunday was the start of Advent – the start of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming.” In the Catholic Church, as well as many other Christian churches, Advent represents a season of waiting and preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We look at Advent from both the historical perspective with the birth of Jesus on Christmas (First Coming) as well as in the context of the Second Coming. In either case, this is a good time to take stock in what we are doing to prepare ourselves while in waiting. No, I don’t mean making shopping lists for all the food, stringing up lights around the house, or purchasing far more gifts than our children need. What I mean is “what are we doing to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ?”

I am not one of those people that “preaches” about the end of the world all of the time, but I do believe that we should prepare ourselves constantly for the Second Coming and Advent is a good reminder. The Second Coming may be today, tomorrow, fifty years from now, or after our own human life passes, but what are we doing to prepare today, right now, for eternal life? In Matthew 25:13, Jesus states, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” All of us need to be prepared as only God knows. Think of it this way for a moment. What if the world ended today, and you stood to be judged and were asked the question, “why should I let you in?” How would you respond? And, would your response gain you entry into the Kingdom?

We oftentimes allow the many distractions in our day to day life get in the way of doing good works and preparing ourselves for eternal life. Let’s all be honest with ourselves, there is a lot to get done. Like it or not, we need to do the grocery shopping for Christmas dinner, buy gifts for family, decorate, coordinate that pitch-in at work, and maybe volunteer if there is time. Hit pause for a few minutes! Make a list for yourself of all the things you have to do and have planned for the holidays, and then ask yourself, “Of these, which are preparing me?” Are you making time for God in your life? Are you going to Church on Sundays? Are you taking the time out for prayer? Are you helping others around you understand the true meaning of Christmas? Are you donating your time and treasure to help others during this holiday season?

I can say that I love Christmas. For many years now, my family and I go up to my in-laws in Michigan and celebrate with extended family. It is a lot of fun and the bringing together of family on such a joyous occasion is truly special and an important part of the holidays. I’m sure many others have similar traditions, yet in all of the hustle it is easy to forget what the spirit of the season is all about – and, it’s much more than spending one hour at a church on Christmas Eve or Christmas. The season is an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord. We will honor Him and the memory of the Nativity of Jesus Christ by using some of the next 22 days to pray more, help out a charitable organization, volunteer our time, adopt a needy child/family, go to Confession, read Sacred Scripture, and teach our children about the meaning of Christmas. Consider a personal pledge – something that you are going to do this Advent for your own personal preparation.

“Happy New Year” to all of you. Go make time. Slow down. Reflect and prepare. God is also watching, making his list, and checking it twice.