Friday, September 19, 2008

How to Accompany Jesus

I found this meditation in the September 2008 edition of Magnificat. Magnificat is a monthly liturgical prayer book with morning and evening prayers as well as the daily reading for mass. I highly recommend that you check them out!

How to Accompany Jesus

When you do not think of yourself, my grace visits you, and I provide what is necessary for you. When you try to do it yourself, I leave you to your own care... In the same way, the more simple you are, the more you will avoid great temptations, which are used to destroy in you that which is an obstacle between you and me. I am simple and near you. To come to me, your work is to remove obstacles; to eliminate, to choose, to remove all that you accumulate in your mind and in your heart apart from me. If you become simple as a child, where are the obstacles? You say that little children, having no great struggles, have no great merits: the purpose of your life does not lie in the personal merit due to your generosity; your merit will lie in using all your generosity to allow me to live in you... Remember this: the value of your existence is not in what you have done, or said, or suffered: it is in the part of your being that you have given to your Savior, in what you have allowed me to do with you. Give me your heart - and your heart is your whole life! See: what you wish to take by your own power, you cannot grasp - my love which prevents you from understanding my passion - if you understood how much I suffered, you would be crushed... Do not tire of asking for love: it transforms everything. Even time: thus when one loves much, one has plenty of time, time in which to do many things.

Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity (+ 1942) was a Poor Clare of Jerusalem

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The rest of the conversation...

Originally sent February 5th, 2008


I wanted to continue the conversation that we were having earlier tonight. I want to explain to you how precious His gift has been to me since I have come to believe in Him again. But I kept having to delve deeper and deeper into the story, trying to build a rock solid foundation that would make everything crystal clear. Instead I decided to cut to the chase and present the bare essentials. You know me well enough to fill in any blanks that I've left.

I love God and I am grateful that He didn't forsake me. I believe that He brought me to St. Matthews and put me (and Kavi) into the path of you and other spiritual mentors in this parish. He could have placed me anywhere. He could have put me into the Episcopal Church in Seattle or a Southern Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas, but he didn't. The place where I was to be redeemed was Saint Matthews. The place where I was to learn to love Jesus was at Saint Matthews. I don't know why. When I look back at the blessings that I've had in the last year and a half I cry tears of gratitude. To know that God not only loves me but that He has a purpose for me is almost too much to bear. When I think about how much I've wasted and how often I have rejected His love I want to be sad - but I can't because I can see His infinite love stretching out in front of me. To understand that Jesus died for my sins - including the sins that I'm going to commit tomorrow and next week and ten years from now leaves me with an incredible sense of simultaneous hope and unworthiness.

Going through the classes with RCIA my head believed that Jesus was present in the Eucharist. At the time I didn't understand what it meant for my heart to believe as well. It was a kind of 'yea yea, it's in there' feeling. But then one Friday I went to a kids mass and Mary F. presented me with the Eucharist. Only she didn't say "The body of Christ" to me. What she said to me had the same effect as if the Archangel Gabriel himself had been up there. She said to me, "Darren, this is the body of Christ." and I knew at that instant what it was like to believe from my heart. On several occasions I've tried to explain to Mary how pivotal that moment was in my life but I don't think that I've been able to do that very well. Perhaps one day I'll be able to explain to her how grateful I am.

What I know is that Jesus loves me and that He brought me back to His church. I know that Jesus died for me even though He could have stopped it at any point. I know that He has the power to be in the Eucharist if He chooses to be. I know that he promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide his people. I know that His church teaches that He is present in the Eucharist. To believe all of that but not to believe in His real presence would be to almost suggest that Jesus is playing some kind of supernatural candid camera with me. "Ok, check this out. Remember when I told you that I could get 65% of the parishioners at St. Matts to believe in My real presence? Ha! I've got it up to 73%! Check out this dork - he's actually grateful for a chance to be in communion with Me. Ahhhh, these silly humans are so entertaining..." But of course we know that Jesus is not playing a prank on us. The question then becomes: why does he do it every week?

Think about how every part of the mass after the transubstantiation (the ringing bells) changes when we believe that Jesus is really present. Instead of singing "Lamb of God" to Jesus up in heaven, we're singing it to Him on His alter. The next time you sing it, imagine that He is on the altar listening to you literally sing His praises - and that He nods his head in acceptance and appreciation. Imagine that He's up there and He says to you that He loves you and that the sacrifice that He made for you was totally worth it.

When I was growing up, my favorite part of the mass was when we exchanged the sign of peace. For me it was a "Hey man, what's up? Watcha doin later?" kind of thing. But now that I believe in the real presence - it's totally changed. In fact, I'm not really talking to the person next to me anymore, I'm talking to Jesus on the altar and I'm saying "Jesus, please bring Your love and peace to this complete stranger. May he bask in Your glory and know the infinite love that You have for him."

A person doesn't have to believe in the real presence to love Jesus or to be loved by Him. You once told me "You get too caught up in all the Catholic things." That made my heart ache because I know that what I experience at a Catholic mass is only available at a Catholic mass. I want you to know and experience the happiness and gratitude that I feel during the mass. But the best part of it all is that I know that I'm only starting to scratch the surface. In the years and decades to come I hope and pray that I'll keep discovering more and more about God's love for me and how I can do His will here on earth.

In RCIA I learned the Catholic definition of love: To want the very best for that person. Jo, I do love and I want the absolute very best for you and your family. I want to guys to keep loving God a little bit more every day. I want to you come to love Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist as much as I do - even more! I promise you that God is not playing us for chumps.

Finally, I just want to re-iterate how glad I am that God put you into my path. I'm grateful for the love and kindness that you've shown to Kavi and myself. You've been a wonderful role model for me and you've taught me a lot about how to love God and how to not be ashamed to show that love for Him in my everyday life. To sum it up in 4 simple words, "You rock, Jo K.!"

Your brother in Christ,

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Making cupcakes with Kavi

Originally sent April 29th, 2008 to Jo, Lynda, Scott and Monda

About a month and a half ago Kavi and I made some cupcakes. Now, if you've ever made cupcakes with a first grader then this story will probably be pretty familiar to you.

Before we even started I made him wash his hands. Then I made him wash his hands again with soap. While he was doing that I measured out the oil and preheated the oven. Kavi returned and climbed up on his kitchen stool and with his clean hands reached for the first egg. He was able to crack all three eggs by himself, dumping the precious contents into the mixing bowl. While I was picking out the eggshells he decided to take a break to do some cartwheels in the den. Of course he didn't understand why he had to wash his hands again, with soap, since we'd vacuumed the floor a couple of days earlier...

We made the batter and he put the liners into the cup cake pans. He even managed to spoon some batter into the liners before it was time to take another break. I had gotten them into the oven and was starting to make the frosting when he returned, just in time to add the powdered sugar into the mixing bowl. After the powdered sugar dust storm subsided he was off to his room for another break.

While I was icing the cupcakes I asked myself why I didn't just buy some cupcakes at the store or wait until he went to bed. Both ways would have been faster, easier and certainly less messy. The next morning at school Kavi was bragging about how he had made cupcakes the night before. He didn't have a clue about how much extra work I had to do in order to make cupcakes with him. Of course, he doesn't understand how much I love to make cupcakes with him either, so it all balances out. Besides, when Kavi took credit for the cupcakes, it didn't take anything away from me. It didn't make the work that I did any less important and it certainly doesn't mean that he could really make cupcakes on his own.

Have you ever heard someone say that Catholics try to buy their salvation through good works? I have, and the next time that it happens to me I'm just gonna say: "Dude, I'm not buying my salvation, I'm just making cupcakes with Jesus."

Because God loves us, He gives us the unearned and undeserved gift of grace. As Christians with free will, we can either accept or reject this gift. Our salvation is found when we accept this gift and cooperate with it to do God's will here on Earth. Does this mean that Jesus didn't have to die for our sins or that we can gain heaven by our own merit? Of course not! Does our participation in doing God's will here on Earth in anyway diminish His divinity or ability? Absolutely not.

Jesus died for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. But Jesus also lived for us! He lived for us so that we could see how we should live - an authentic life full of the peace and joy that only an intimate relationship with God can provide. God really is our father and He cherishes each one of us and wants to help us grow and learn. Jesus knows, more than anyone who has ever walked the face of the Earth, that we are incapable of being perfect.

When He invites us to "help" him make cupcakes (feed the hungry, visit the sick, love thy neighbor, etc) He does so because He wants to be involved with every part of our lives. He wants us to abide in Him as He abides in us. He doesn't want us in the living room watching Sports Center while he's in the kitchen making cupcakes by himself. He wants us involved in His life, in our lives and in the lives of everyone that surround us. What do you think he meant when He commanded us to love our neighbors?

God, through the Holy Spirit, has given us all of the gifts that we need to do His will. Use these gifts. Trust in the Lord. When you trust in Him and try to do his will, He will help you to do things that you couldn't possibly do on your own.

Do you remember Matthew 18:3? 'And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."' Maybe it's time that we take Jesus at his word and start relying more on God as our Father, just as Kavi relies on me as his father.

Your brother in Christ,

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Time in the box

A letter originally sent to some dear friends on Feb 14th, 2008.

Jo and Lynda,

As you guys know, I'm a volunteer for Hospice. About a year ago I was working in the Bratsburg wing of the Emmanuel Lutheran home, which is where they house the people with Alzheimer's. One of the men that I working with was a devout Christian, albeit a Lutheran. I would visit him every Friday during my lunch hour. If he was asleep during my visit I would pray a rosary over him or read to him from the Bible. If he was awake, I'd talk to him, read the Bible or read from one of the books of poetry that he had written. These were humble books with humble poems. They proclaimed a love for God and a devotion to his family. I knew that this man loved Jesus and lived a pious life. He wasn't afraid to live his faith. But I was still concerned about his salvation.

It was still early in my RCIA process but I had discovered the importance of going to reconciliation to seek God's forgiveness. Since he had Alzheimer's, I worried that Al would never have the chance to confess his sins and have them forgiven by a priest (acting en personae Christu.) What if he intentionally committed a sin but forgot about it a minute later, and thus couldn't ask for forgiveness later?

Well, I thought long and hard about this stuff. I googled it and found nothing. So the following Saturday I went to confession. I had my sins to confess, but I wanted to talk to Fr. Vic about this as well. I explained the situation and my concerns to him and he replied thusly (paraphrased, of course): "First of all, you need to remember that God loves us and that he gives us these crosses to bear for our own good. God wouldn't give him Alzheimer's and then punish him for not doing
something that he couldn't actually do. Secondly, confession isn't for God's sake. It isn't for the sake of the Church. It isn't for my benefit. Confession is for you. Confession is a gift from God,
instituted by Christ, so that our hearts can be free of sin, even if just for a short amount of time."

So, if God loves us, but doesn't need us, then why do we have the sacraments at all? Precisely because God does love us and doesn't need us. All of the sacraments, from baptism to last rights, were given to us solely for our benefit. What benefit does reconciliation offer us, you might ask? Well, for 10 seconds, minutes, hours or even days, we are a free from sin as Jesus. We are as pure of heart as the Lord our Saviour. Think about that. For those 10 seconds everything in your
spiritual life is perfect. You've humbled yourself and asked for God's mercy, and he has granted it to you just like he promised that he would (Matthew 9:6 & 16:19.)

Did you know that there are three types of sacraments in the Catholic Church? There are the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist), vocation (holy orders and marriage) and healing (last rights and reconciliation.) That's right, reconciliation is a sacrament of healing, not a sacrament of obedience. Throughout this country, every single Saturday, priests sit waiting in confessionals to help us heal our souls. To cleanse us of the internal divisiveness of sin.

I know that preparing for confession can be a scary thing. I don't like doing it either. But when Fr. Vic (or whichever priest you choose as your confessor) says "I absolve you of your sins." - I can't tell you how powerful that is. It wasn't enough that Jesus died for my sins. No, He loves me so much that he created this sacrament so that I could feel His love and mercy here on Earth. I promise you that if you go to reconciliation this Lenten season, it will be something that you
never forget.

When you go, take you children with you. The girls probably haven't gone to confession since their First Communion. Give them the gift of receiving God's forgiveness. Take the boys too. Let them sit quietly in the pews while you're in confession. Let them learn from your good example that it is important to ask God for his mercy and forgiveness. Let them learn that we cannot be justified in ourselves.

Finally, if you don't want to do reconciliation with Fr. Vic, then do it over at Risen Christ or John Paul II or out in Columbia Falls. It doesn't matter which priest you go to: in this sacrament they are all acting as the 'person of Christ' (en personae Christu.) I've got materials that can help you to prepare for it. Oh ya, when I told the priest that I was going to my first confession ever (at the age of 33), he was thrilled. He was so excited that I came back to the God. You won't be in trouble for not having gone for so long. You'll be like the prodigal son, and the priest will be grateful to see you there.

I love you guys and I want the absolute best for you and your families. At Easter we celebrate the death of Jesus so that our sins may be forgiven. I beg you to accept his forgiveness though his holy sacrament.

Your brother in Christ,

If you want your children to be safe, teach them to love Jesus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stewardship talk

I was asked to speak to the parish on the topic of stewardship. Below is the text of that speech.

Hello, I'm Darren Fix. My son and I have been members of the St Matthews parish for about a year and a half now. I was born into a Catholic family, and although I was baptized and received First Communion in the Catholic Church, my family quit going to church right before I was to be confirmed. My parents had a lot of different reasons for pulling us out, but basically it all boiled down to their feeling that the Church was dreary obligation that stifled them and their relationship with God. For a lot of people this would have been the end of the story, but I was blessed. Twenty some odd years later, I found my way back. Last year with the help of the wonderful people of the St Matthews RCIA program, I finally received the sacrament of Confirmation.

Today, I have been asked to share with you what I think about stewardship and how loving God and serving my neighbors has had a profound impact on my life.

A little over a year ago, God answered one of my prayers, and it I wasn't ready for it. It was a Saturday afternoon and my son was at a birthday party, so I decided to take that opportunity to go to confession. When I came into the church there were a few people already in line and so I made my way to the pews to gather myself, say some prayers and see if I had forgotten anything with my examination of consciousness. When I knelt down to pray I noticed a young woman at the front of the church. She wasn't kneeling or doing much of anything that I could tell. She was just sitting up there and I just had this sense that she was going through something difficult and that she was up there looking for some help. After a a few minutes, while I was wrapping up my prayers and preparations for confession, I looked up and noticed that she was still up at the front of the church. So I threw out a final prayer: "Lord, please help her find what she's looking for. Please give her what she needs."

With that I crossed myself and joined the line for confession, which by this time only had one other person in it. Almost immediately upon getting in line the confessional door creaked open and the person in front of me went in. A moment later the young lady from the front of the church joined me in line, and when she spoke to me I was a little surprised.

She began to tell me a story about how she had just arrived in town that week and that while she had already found a job she was flat broke until she got paid on Friday. She asked me if I could spare any money to tide her over until payday. (pause) Now, two minutes earlier I had asked God to help her and God had answered my prayer by sending her back to me! I was thunderstruck. To this day I couldn't tell you what she looked like or how tall she was or even the color of her hair. I just couldn't believe that God had answered my prayer so quickly and so directly. I pulled my money out of my pocket and looked at it in front of her. I had a ten and two ones. I gave her the ten and she was grateful for it. I put the other two dollars back in my pocket and I was immediately filled with regret. The Lord had asked me to help her, and I helped her all right. I helped her 10 dollars worth, just not 12 dollars worth.

I mean, are you kidding me? Two dollars? Those two dollars didn't mean anything to me but they could have bought her eight packages of ramen noodles or a few cans of tuna fish. Two dollars is about half of what I usually spend on a drink at Starbucks. It's half of a movie rental. I had my checkbook in my car, credit and ATM cards in my wallet, but I couldn't part with those last two dollars. It's not like God had asked me to sell everything that I had and follow him. He asked me to give what was convenient and at hand, and I couldn't even do that.

God had answered my prayers, and I wasn't ready for it. I had asked Him to help her, and help her He did. By answering my prayer that way, he essentially said to me. "I have decided to grant your prayer. I will help YOUR neighbor by sending her to YOU for help. I was so close to doing it right. So close. But I didn't. I failed by the tiniest amount, and instead of feeling the pride of having served my Lord well, I felt the shame of disappointing him.

But that's OK, because I was born to make mistakes. I've talked to people about this experience and about the remorse that I felt for not giving what I could. Some people told me that "if God wanted me to give her the full twelve dollars then I would have." Others told me that it was prudent of me to hold some money back - after all she might have been trying to scam me. They all wanted to make me feel better about what I perceived as my failure. What they didn't understand, and what I'm not sure that I can explain is that I cherish the regret that I feel when I think about that moment. Because in that regret I feel an incredible sense of hope. Not only do I know that God loves me, but I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he wants me to love him and to serve my neighbors. He knew that there was a good chance that I was going to hold back when he asked me to give of myself, but he asked me anyway. And as it turns out, His asking me was one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received.

So, not only has God given each and every one of us gifts - He has given us different gifts and different combinations of gifts and He expects us to use those gifts. When we use those gifts to love Him and serve our neighbors - well, that's called stewardship. Sometimes we can find stewardship opportunities in a Parish ministry or on a school council. Sometimes these opportunities are found out in the community at large - volunteering at Hospice or the Salvation Army or with Feeding the Flathead. Sometimes that opportunity is found in PRAYING for the people involved in those ministries. And sometimes, that opportunity can be found while waiting in line for reconciliation. But always remember, God wouldn't have given these gifts to us if there wasn't a time and a place for us to use them.

If there is one thing that I hope you take away from my talk, it's this: You don't have to be perfect to be a steward. Often times we'll give too little of ourselves. But other times we'll give too much. We'll overextend or put ourselves into a position where we can't sustain our stewardship. We're all going to make some mistakes along the way, but that's OK. Hopefully we've got a lot of time to fine tune our stewardship and find a good balance. The very nature of stewardship allows us to explore it within ourselves, our families and our lives.

Finally, I want to remind you of something that Father Vic has told us: "Stewardship isn't about giving until it hurts. Stewardship is about giving until it feels good." So, I humbly ask you, particularly over the next week, to pray about the gifts that God has given to you that make you unique amongst all of His creation. Please think about these gifts and how you can use them to love God and serve your neighbors.

Thank you.