Learning from Lions

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A few weeks ago my firm flew me to St. Louis to attend The Ritz Carlton Experience training. This opportunity is an arrangement my firm has with Ritz Carlton where they provide us with the same training they give their employees so that it we can enhance the client experience we provide.

But that is really saying something, isn’t it? When you are that good that other company’s, even those outside of your industry, want you to teach their employees what you do. So I have to ask, have you ever been to one? A Ritz Carlton I mean. Personally, I have had the pleasure of staying at the Ritz Carlton in St. Louis several dozen times, and it truly is the only hotel I have ever stayed in that actually feels like home when I am there.

The St. Louis property staff has less than 9% turnover annually and more than half of the employees have been working there for over 20 years. In a hotel?

Their National Client Experience Director flew in to run the training and it was a remarkable experience. He said over and over again that the Ritz Carlton guest experience is not about the trappings and visual delights in the hotel – although those are important – but that the guest experience is about the relationship each employee has with each and every guest.

The Ritz Carlton Company Credo is: The Ritz Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal services and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

The three-step approach Ritz-Carlton Hotels have to service includes:

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
  2. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.

As I was sitting there in one of their hotel conference rooms diligently making notes about ways to help my business a crazy thought came to me; What if this was a Parish?

Can you imagine? Can you imagine everyone’s delight in coming to Mass each week? Can you imagine the impressions we, as Catholics, would leave with one another as we departed each week to let our lives be a witness to Christ? How happy we would be to share with others the joy we have in our faith and invite others to experience the same? It certainly didn’t seem that hard. If a hotel can do it, why couldn’t Christians?

That thought just kept sticking with me, and what became enjoined with it were thoughts of the Church’s call to the New Evangelization. Because I feel safe in saying that there are many of us that feel the Ritz-Carlton experience when we come to Mass each week. I know one CHRP brother that does. He regularly talks about how much better his life gets the closer he is to Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee.   Now many of us feel that way especially if we attend the same service time, we after week, and get to know which of our friends from various ministries attend then also.   It’s a great place to find a smile, a handshake, and a hug.

But what about someone we don’t know? Do we share the same love with them? Do we bring guests from outside of our Parish hoping to meet those same friends and share in the joy? I know I didn’t feel that way about our parish when I first came, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s a big parish with lots of families. When we first came we didn’t know which end of the church to park on and which side of the sanctuary to sit on. We didn’t really know anyone there and no one talked to us.

Now much has changed in our experience within the parish since then, and CRHP has had much to do with that. However, I can’t help but always wonder if there are other first, second or third timers who would benefit greatly from a simple warm and sincere greeting? Or even a warm good-bye?

Or better yet – Are there folks like that in my neighborhood? Are there folks like that in yours?

The Journey Home

Once upon a time in my life such a simple gentle greeting created a significant impact in our entire faith experience. We had just moved into our first house and were flirting with the idea of starting to attend church again. We had been married for a year or more then. Being an ecumenical couple we had always left our faith posture hanging out there as unresolved, but the time had come to take some kind of a step forward. So we started shopping for a church. After a dozen or more “experiences” and sampling from Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, we eventually found a home.

What was the unique and defining experience that grabbed us and made us feel at home there? It was a loaf of bread.

Common in many protestant church’s is the practice of registering your attendance. You fill out a couple lines inside of a booklet that lists your name, address, and membership affiliation with the church at the beginning of the service. These booklets are then passed to the end of the aisles and an usher collects them. This particular church went through those booklets, identified local visitors to their services, and had volunteers drive to their homes during the service and leave a loaf of bread with a note at their front door. The note simply said, “Thanks for attending our service. We enjoyed having you as our guest and we look forward to having you come back.” So this is what you found waiting for you when you got home.

Now given the wide range of experiences we had while looking at churches – everything from regularly being ignored; to being openly stalked because we were obviously the youngest couple to pass through the entrance of one church in decades – we found that little loaf (not much bigger than two cup cakes) to be enchanting and extremely welcoming.

So we went back. We attended that church for many years, and we only left because we moved to Shawnee.     We made life long friends there that we still have today. We had a child there. We volunteered all the time. It was our home away from home. I joined a Discipleship Team that spent nine months of every year in intense Bible Study; which I did for three of the years we were there – parenting ultimately demanding my time back.

All of those experiences came from a small loaf of bread and a note.

Our shopping experience at a Catholic Church at that time was with some friends of ours that attended Holy Cross Catholic Church in Overland Park, KS. I’ll never forget when we asked them if we could come with them to Mass one day and the way they looked at each other. You would have thought we had asked if we could use their bathroom and neither of them could remember when the last time was it had been cleaned. Clearly, no one ever asked them that before, nor had they ever considered inviting someone.

After attending Mass with them one Sunday we all went out to eat together and talked. When I questioned them about certain aspects of the service (and the faith itself) they just grew increasingly more embarrassed as they had no idea how to answer much of what I was curious about. Sadly, instead of inviting us back, or even inviting us to take our questions to the priest (which is what my wife suggested to me after we left), they took a much simpler approach. This couple just tried to convince us that the Catholic Church probably wasn’t a good fit for us as Catholics don’t worry about such things as being important. My wife, God bless her, felt more sorry for them that I even asked about such things, than any real concern for what we were looking for. The whole experience was bizarre and uncomfortable.

Ironically, my conversion into the Catholic Church eventually came through the invitation of a priest. Father Francis Hund certainly did not beat me over the head with a Bible or engage me in a battle of apologetics to win me over argumentatively. Father simply smiled, shared a loving hand of friendship, and made an invitation to come back and see more. What I learned from Father is that connecting people to Christ isn’t about doing anything at all. It’s about being open enough to allow someone in, then getting out of the way and let Christ take it from there.

Now being introduced to a parish and the Catholic faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process is a wonderful, but yet very formal, revelation and acknowledgement process that has been refined over thousands of years. But lets key in on one important thing I just said there. It’s a process. RCIA is not a program. A program is something others do for other people that we are not a part of, or that we are connected with. A program is how something gets done so we can focus on what we need to focus on. But again, it’s not a program; RCIA is a process. Where does the RCIA process start?

You!

Chasing Lions

One of my favorite protestant authors is Mark Batterson. Mark is a Pastor of a Mega Church in Washington DC that began as a Homeless outreach center. Mark has an amazing view of the Holy Spirit and a passion for Christ. Batterson wrote a book I love entitled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, how to survive and thrive when opportunity roars.

The theme of the book is centrally based on the Old Testament passage; 2 Samuel 23, 20-22:

Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, a valiant man of many deeds, from Kabzeel, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. Also, he went down and killed a Lion in the cistern on a snowy day. He likewise slew an Egyptian; a huge man. The Egyptian carried a spear, but Benaiah came against him with a staff; he wrestled the spear from the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with the spear.

So who was Benaiah in the greater scheme of things? When David was surrounded by the Philistines and was being starved out, Benaiah was one of the three men who volunteered to fight their way into the Philistine encampment and bring water back for David. Benaiah later became the head of David’s bodyguards.

So why does Batterson find this guy so interesting? Why was he allowed to be one of those selected to fight their way into the Philistine encampment? Reputation.

How did he get that reputation? God put people and events in his life that made him who he was. God knew David was going to need someone like this, so the Lord raised someone like that through life experiences to fill that need.

But at the same time, Batterson sees Benaiah as a spiritual warrior. He sees Benaiah as a man who fights for the Kingdom and has achieved spiritual maturity. Or as Batterson put it himself, “In essence, success is making the most of every opportunity. Spiritual maturity is seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities.This is what Batterson calls in his book being a Lion chaser.

Batterson later argues that we miss this these opportunities because we don’t right-size God. “Our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is. Our problems seem really big because of God seems really small. In fact we reduce God to the seize of our biggest problem…..Maybe it’s time to stop creating God in your image and let Him create you in his.

In other words, we miss opportunities to be an active participant in the growth of the Body of Christ and a participant in Christ’s ministry here on earth because we are too tied up in making God as small as our own problems. If we could right size God, and be seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities, we build out Christ’s ministry here on earth; here at Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee.

Brothers, are you Chasing Lions?

YBIC

Life, Truth, & Love

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….I lived in West Texas.

When they say, “Texas: It’s a whole other country.” They aren’t kidding. Texas is the twelfth largest economy in the world, it’s a state that has its own internal power grid and is completely energy independent from the rest of the United States.  Texas is the only state in the US that takes two days to drive through at it’s widest point. Texas also, for the longest time, had the worst education system in the United States, had third world poverty in the western half of the state, and had no real hope for millions of people. It was during that era that I lived there.

Through my employer I was connected to a program called Saturday Scholars. Saturday Scholars was a community outreach program in which everyday people like yours truly volunteered at elementary schools on Saturday mornings teaching Reading, Writing, and Math to 8-11 year old kids who were egregiously behind the national averages.

The kids that came didn’t come see us on Saturday’s because their parents made them. Nor did they come because they were interested learners and wanted a way up where none other existed. Many of them didn’t even want to be there. Those kids came, because they had nothing else. N-o-t-h-i-n-g. We fed them 2 meals, breakfast and lunch, and we worked with them on developing basic skills in key areas that would help them avoid being in extreme poverty for life. But basically, we were there to create belief in something, give hope, and inspire them to keep moving forward.

Beta Blockers – the new steroid.

Have you ever felt extreme despair? Have you ever felt despair? Loneliness? Lacking purpose? All in – depressed and hopeless? It’s amazing how in a world in which we are all supposedly so much more connected that we can feel so alone and empty; but we do. According to a US Government study by Marcus and Olfson for the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion out of the VA Hospital in Philadelphia, depression spiked dramatically in the US from the late 80’s through the late 90’s. From the late 90’s through the first decade of the new century these increases tapered thanks to better medication, therefore fewer sought additional medical services. So our new life in the United States with better connectivity has now led to life with better Beta Blockers. Our life in the “Decade of Access” led to our life in the “Decade of Treatment.”

Who do you think goes to these doctors that make up the statistical pool of participants in this study? Well, it likely wasn’t the kids I worked with in West Texas. Odds are good though I’ve passed a few of them on the way home from work driving across Johnson County, KS. Odds are good, that its people you and I know.  Odds are just as good that it’s you and me.

So why do we – we being modern Americans – do this to ourselves? Why do we push and push ourselves seeking more? Why do we band-aid ourselves chemically so we can keep going? Why must we have more? Why must we do more? Why must keep going? What antidote, for what disease, are we racing against the clock to find?

Most college graduates get introduced in their Freshman or Sophomore Psychology 101 course to Abraham Maslow’s Theory published in 1943 about The Hierarchy of Needs. Starting with Physiological Needs at the base of the pyramid, we move up in order through Safety, Love / Belonging, Esteem, and then if we are truly lucky we reach the top in Self-Actualization. The pinnacle of personal identity: Self-Actualization.

Most people, Maslow believed, stopped at Esteem. But what if Maslow missed something? As someone who has arguably Self-Actualized, and who knows many others who arguably have too, I feel pretty comfortable throwing it out there that this isn’t the end all be all we thought it would be. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Maslow – the best life has to offer is about something much simpler?

Living Optimally

Like many business professionals in this world my company considers me in the same vein as a professional athlete. Now, anyone who has seen me at the pool knows with certainty that I am not a professional athlete. But my company cares little about my ability to score real touchdowns. They do care – however – about my ability to be a successful tour guide through the situational war zones our clients face, and that those clients (and the firm) be able to bank on that. Therefore, what my so-called athleticism means is that I get regular access to performance optimization concepts and ideas.  I get books, get sent to conferences, and get enrolled in programs.  All are good, and all are worth something.  Admittedly, however, I have been a little slow in adopting all of the dietary suggestions.  We are what we eat, and I agree with that.  And I still like myself…sort of.

But what I have learned from my own experience and from my inputed insight is that being successful is about being at your best.  What I hear from these outside sources are the same confirming thoughts reiterated in different ways over and over again but from different people (Ph D’s and life long strategists in holistic living).  But its all the same.  It’s what my parents used to call the KISS principal (Keep it simple stupid).  It’s not the cool workout, it’s not the right book to read, not the right piece of equipment, not the right action to take, or not the right fad to follow.  Being successful is about perfecting the ordinary.  It’s about daily intentional living.  It’s not what you know – it’s what you do.  It’s about making life more simple and making daily rituals targeted at who you want to be.  It’s about taking an approach to life that is uniquely yours.  It’s about finding time for daily restoration and reflection.  It’s about simple living.

Now, I might sound a little bit like a whack job when I write these next few words, but it sounds to me that the experts describe living optimally a lot like we describe living out your faith as a Christian.  Call me crazy, but….

It’s the same, but different.

On a recent adventure this summer I was blessed to have as my traveling companion a good friend of mine who has two PHD’s and whose profession is researching population trends.  He and I love to brainstorm on the cause and effect of social issues – he from the external stimulus perspective and I from the internal stimulus perspective.  We don’t argue per se, more accurately we just dig around our brain’s and throw all available data out on our mental work table and then, like NASA engineers, take those available pieces and see how we can land the stranded space shuttle most reliably.

Our focal point this trip was the emergence of mass shootings by young people and their subsequent suicide as a social trend. From Columbine to today we see young people turning to extreme gun violence as a resolution to a sense of emptiness and abandonment by society at large.  I brought the discussion to a halt midstream when a reminded us both of a very important point.  When I was a young teen there was tremendous concern from parents around teen suicide.  More simply that we would find the world un-wanting of us and we would simply kill ourselves.  “A long term solution to a short term problem” we were told.  The fear was everywhere, parents were always at the ready to listen, and there were assemblies in school warning us not to make such an extreme decision.

Today, however, we worry more about the teen killing us than killing themselves.  The killing spree is supposedly the new solution to teen angst.  Somehow some way – they get get access to guns, play too many first person shooter games, and decide to solve there problems by eliminating those problems (People) that stress them the most and then they kill themselves.

So why the switch?  Why did the concern go from fear for the individual to fear for group at large?  Could it be that this is reflective of a greater social paradigm shift?  We have been concerned for years that the individual is no longer important.  We have legislated our selves to death to protect us from any individual human action.  We have tried to save us from ourselves so dramatically that the individual person is no longer responsible for anything.

So do we now only see the world through the eyes of a group?  Are we at the point of freeing ourselves from the responsibility of individual decision making to the point that we also only fear as a collective?  Are we so free of accountability to the point that no one person acts within the scope of their own definition?

How does Christ fit into that?  Can Christ have a relationship with a group?  Or better yet, what is the group without Christ at the center of it?  Can your faith in God be real enough to be dependent on others in a group without God as its center? Or does it need to be individualized.  Well, was your creation individualized?  Was your sanctification individualized.  We are blessed to have individual relationships with Jesus Christ.  We must stand alone, free of any group, in choosing to live with Christ in our life.  We must choose Jesus over the needs of a group in which we only think we belong.  He is calling us to Him.

In the end, my friend and I concluded that it is unfortunate that through the sense of abandonment young people feel from a lack of a strong family, from a lack of a loving community, and from a lack of a consistent support system – young people become victims of their own minds and lash out against the group identity they have been left with.  A group identity that does’t respect the person themselves as the individual is absent, but instead only respects the collective mind.  A mind ungrounded.  A mob.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi – it’s who we are.  The Body of Christ.  The Church Militant.  You and me.  Us.  It’s why you and I are not alone.

Most of us have heard Neil Green’s amazing story.  If by some chance you haven’t, please stop Neil some time after Mass one Sunday and ask him about his experience at CRHP.  But I warn you – give yourself about an hour to listen, and bring both you and Neal a Chair; he can’t stand for very long these days.

My travels around the the parish has afforded me the opportunity to hear Neal speak on his those events of his return from death some four or five times.  A good friend of mine describes Neil as a dead man walking.  What always amazes me when I hear Neil speak on those events is that what he shares with the most pride from the whole experience, save the fact that it happened at all, is the umbrella of friendship and love that surrounded him through it all.

Neil doesn’t ascribe those events as being special to him.  He ascribes them as being a potent testimony to the power of communal prayer that came from those brothers who care about him.  He ascribes the events to the awareness, revealed to all of us, of how God places people in our lives for a purpose.  He ascribes the events to the simple understanding that as a child of God, whether he likes it or not, he is living out a role and a purpose beyond himself in serving others.  And as a child of God, he therefore has a vested interest in the betterment of his fellow man.  All of these things, in sum, give Neal a glow of joy about him that you can touch and feel.

 Happiness

If you are looking for a great source to grasp the inner roots of true happiness and contentment for the soul, stop reading this blog and go pick up a copy of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Way to Happiness. In the following paragraph’s I will attempt to outline Sheen’s argument through quoting some of the introduction, however a better read awaits you in that book if you want.

Bishop Sheen’s layouts out three assumptions that establish his basic premise for understanding true happiness:

First, The overemphasis on politics today is an indication that people are governed, rather than governing. The complexities of our civilization for us to organize into larger and larger units; we have become so intent on governing what is outside of us that we neglect to govern our own selves. Yet the key to social betterment is always to be found in personal betterment. Remake man and you remake his world. We gravely need to restore self-respect and to give him his appropriate honor: this will keep from bowing cravenly before those who threaten to enslave him, and will give him the courage to defend the right, alone if need be, when the world is wrong.

Second, As society is made by man, so man, in his turn, is made by his thoughts, his decisions, and his choices.…Even the material of our physical selves is the servant of our thoughts: psychologists recognize the fact that our bodies may become tired only because of the tiredness of the mind….One basic reason for the tiredness of the mind is the conflict in all of us between the ideal and the achievement, between what we ought to be and what we are, between our longing and our having, between our powers of understanding and the incomprehensible mysteries of the universe….Society can be saved only if man is saved from his unbearable conflicts, and man can be rescued from them only if his soul is saved.

Third, Our happiness consists in fulfilling the purpose of our being. Every man knows, from his own unfulfilled hunger for them, that he was built with a capacity for three things of which he never has enough. He wants life – not for the next few minutes, but for always, and with no aging or disease to threaten it. He also wants truth – not with a forced choice between the truths of mathematics or geography, but he wants all truth. Thirdly, he wants love – not with a time-limit, not mixed with satiety or disillusionment, but love that will be an abiding ecstasy…In looking for the source of love, life, truth, as we know it here, we must go out beyond the limits of this shadowed world – to a Truth not mingled with its shadow, error – to a life not mingled with its shadow, death – to a love not mingled with its shadow, hate. We must seek Pure Life, Pure Truth, and Pure Love – and that is the definition of God. His Life is personal enough to be a Father; His Truth is personal and comprehensible enough to be a son; His Love is so deep and spiritual that it is a spirit.

When enough men have found this way to happiness, they will find one another in brotherhood.

The New Evangelization

Brothers, if you have happiness in Christ have you shared it with others?  Because they are out there in need of your love.  The millions, the challenged, the hurt, and the broken.  I myself came to CRHP broken from the pains of life.  Depressed from the grief of loosing some goodness from my life.  Connecting with my CRHP brothers renewed my soul.

How many more do you think we could find?  How easy would it be to try?  How hard have you tried?

Brothers – I invite you to take a few more minutes and enjoy a message from Danny Gokey:

https://youtu.be/O5GFiDdGGGM

YBIC

 

Can I prioritize a day on charity (love)?

Can I prioritize my day based on charity? Lord I know this would greatly please you. Could I plan a day, or every single day, around acts of love? Could I re-arrange my to-do list, putting those things first that show the most love? Could the success of my day be based off whether I checked off the things that show love? Could demonstrating love become more critical to accomplish then other tasks that seem oh so important to me?  Can I drop things off my list that have the least to do with love, especially those things that show little love except to myself and my own ego? Is it even “my” day?  Continue reading “Can I prioritize a day on charity (love)?”

Rise and walk!

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Jesus loves us, and as part of Christ’s love for us He forgives us our sins.  It is the forgiveness of our sins that defines Christ’s love for us.

Do you believe that?  I don’t doubt you know it.  You may even accept that as a truth of your faith and your life, but do you really believe that?  Do you believe deep in your heart and fully accept that you are forgiven?

For some time after returning to a life in Christ as a Protestant Christian I struggled with totally forgiving myself for my sins.  In many ways I conditionally accepted God’s forgiveness simply because I thought I understood it.  Christ died for us; that was pretty clear, and on a straight forward basis that concept was easy to logically connect within the scope of what the Christian faith tells us.  There was a sacrifice and a price paid.  There was the hero and the beneficiary.  I get it.

However, on a deep personal level, my heart was not ready to fully heal.  I was heal-i-n-g, but not heal-e-d.  Many who knew me then used to hear me say, “I know God forgave me for my sins…I’m just shocked and surprised that He did it.”  Years of faith sharing within multiple faith communities tells me I am far from alone in my experience.  A good friend of mine always likes to joke that on occasion he would ask his priest if he could confess sins a second time because he still struggled with the guilt of committing them.

Mathew 6 gives us the Lord’s Prayer.  Verse 12 says, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  You ever wonder why that is in there?  Are we just being “good Christians” by passing along kindness?  The act of forgiving, it’s pretty powerful in its scope with regards to faith, but on a day to day level it just seems more like good manners doesn’t it?

Or….or… could there be a more important purpose in that verse?  Like Christ’s forgiveness defines our relationship with Him, could the verse’s purpose be what helps define our relationship to the body of Christ?  Is forgiveness a connection we can and should establish with others?  Is it a way to share the experience of God’s Grace in our lives?  Is is a way to be a reflection of Christ in the world?  So if those things are true, how important does it become that we can do that?

And more importantly, the personal question we must ask ourselves now becomes – Can we truly forgive others if we cannot forgive ourselves?  Because we now then ask – Do we really understand and fully appreciate what forgiveness is if we cannot accept the forgiveness granted to us through Jesus Christ?  And in not fully accepting that, how can we share what we don’t really understand?

What is the role of forgiveness?  Does it truly require a Response?

One of the key differences in Catholic Christian belief that differentiates us from our Protestant brethren is our understanding of the call for a response to Christ.  Once saved always saved is not on our dropdown option menu.  James 2,17 tells us So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  

We participate in the Eucharist at Mass to experience Heaven on Earth and bring Christ inside of us.  Why is that?  Would it be to bring the body of Christ to its fulfillment? Would it be to respond to grace by fulfilling Christ’s ministry throughout creation?  Would it be to make you a doorway for others to see Christ as He calls everyone to Him?

Sounds like an awesome responsibility of faith.  What if we fail?  What if we aren’t ready?  Who is ever truly ready for love?  If love came with a prep course, it wouldn’t be so wonderful.

Furthermore we, as members of the body, we experience continued forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  So even if we stumble, we find grace again.  Anyone who has been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation knows that it is through forgiveness that we continue to be reconciled to God. But what about the purpose of our response?  How do we carry that continued forgiveness forward even as we stumble?  At the end of the Mass the Priest always says, “Go forth and glorify God by your life.”  What are all of the ways we can glorify God?  Might not forgiveness be one of them?  Are you ready for love?

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mathew 18, 21-35) Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.  That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.  At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.  Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.  When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.* He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’  Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.  Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.  His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.  Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’  Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.  So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” 

Mathew 5, 23-25 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Now connect lets connect forgiveness to the commandments.

The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22, 36-39) Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?  He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Why is the second like it?

A good friend of mine that I know professionally is a psychiatrist that works for both Johnson County and the State of Kansas in the Correctional System.  He has a mantra that he says over and over again, “Hurt people hurt people.”  Those afflicted by mental, physical, and emotional disorders relate to their fellow man in the same way as has been behaviorally imprinted upon.

Could not the opposite be true?  Could forgiven people forgive people?  What would that mean for the world if that were true?  What would it mean as seen through the ministry of Jesus Christ as read in the Gospels?  How many times did we hear Christ’s word’s Rise and walk, your sins are forgiven?  Have you ever wondered what the lives of those people were like after they physically met Jesus Christ and his touch healed them?  How did they affect others through being touched by Christ?

Is it possible that our call to holiness is an echo of Christ’s grace in our lives through our relationships with others?  If we cannot truly accept Christ’s forgiveness within our self-identity, are we not – in effect- holding back God’s love to others because we are limiting our response to that grace?  God’s grace is a gift.  But not a gift we get to keep to ourselves.  What value is it if it cannot be shared?  And how can we truly appreciate that Grace if we don’t really believe we received it?

Is forgiveness important?

So is forgiveness that fundamental of a role in our faith?  The Church thinks so.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it within the context of the Domestic Church (P1657) in this way: It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.” Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life. (1268, 2214-2231, 2685).

The Catechism also explains for us how parenting educates us in the power of forgiveness as a tool we must use in our lives: (P2227) Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents.  Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it. (2013)

How do we accept forgiveness?

For me personally, the most unforgivable act imaginable between two people would be an extra-marital affair.  I would struggle in unspeakable agony to forgive that act as it represents the deepest breach of trust I can imagine.  So that is the frame of reference I use in understanding Christ’s forgiveness of my sins.

I try to imagine the unique and unimaginable digestion of pain involved for someone who would love another so much that they could experience that breach of trust, and for the sake of their relationship with that person, move beyond it.  So could you imagine forgiving your wife if she cheated on you?  Could you love her that much to move beyond that moment?  Remember Christ has forgiven you that and likely much more.

If you really loved her, and she repented her act begging your forgiveness to come back into the family …. you would.  Now you wouldn’t forget that it happened.  It would become a part of your relationship.  Trust would need to be rebuilt.  Life would change.  There would be a healing process.  But it would happen.  This is an important point in understanding moving beyond our sins.   We don’t simply act like the sin never happened.  That isn’t forgiveness.  That’s denial.

Most ironic to this example of infidelity – for myself – is that the sins I call my own go way beyond so simple a cruel act. But at the same time, make no bones about it, I cheated on God. I lusted for something outside our relationship.

My CHRP team has heard my witness and this is not the place for it.  But I know I am not alone.  Many of us can speak with equal sorrow of the pain we caused in the world as we throw our crosses onto the floor for others to see.  But that in essence is the power of the Cross.  Christ forgave me for what I have done and He has forgiven you as well.  He released us from our sins.  He released us from the prison of spiritual death.

How do we accept that?

To begin we all have to own our sins.  Again, they happened.  We did it.  Own with conviction your failure and your crime.  Why?  They must become a part of us – they must become a part of our new identity.  Not as permanent guilt; but rather as a re-shapen brick of the new foundation of our person.  They must become a part of our witness for Christ.  We must turn them from being an anchor on our hearts into the cross we carry to the altar of His sacrifice.  The more unspeakable and more unimaginable of an act of defiling behavior you can rack up in what you called a life becomes the greater the value of Christ’s sacrifice for you on the Cross.  Your sin becomes the chisel shaping the cross you carry in his name.

Why? Because He owns you now.

Christ has bought you out of the slavery satan has held you in.  Christ has saved you from spiritual death.  He has taken ownership of the guilt you feel as you reconcile your prior acts against the truth of God calling you home.  He has taken ownership of that pain you feel for the misery you caused others whom you now know to love with all of your heart. Christ has re-sewn your broken heart with a love you become called to share with others.  Why?  So He can heal them too.  The Lord is bringing His children home.  The Shepherd is gathering the flock of His creation and bringing them home.  You are the recipient, the participant, and the staff to gather more lambs.  Rise and walk.

But your scars are deep, I know.  So are mine.  They cover most of my body.  Not everyone can see them, but I can.  Every time I look in the mirror all I see is scars.  But what is a scar?  A scar is a place of healing that has grown back stronger than what was there before.  Not always pretty, not always perfect in physical beauty, but stronger.  Necessary.   Redefining our character and our person into the men Christ needs us to be.  Rise and walk.

Renunciation

In putting this piece together I had a bit of a God moment.  Traveling back from my holiday trip, and being the only one awake in the car while traveling through the no mans land that is central Missouri, I kicked up a podcast from my phone through the car stereo.  John Kazanjan from Renewal Ministries was hosting a conference at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Detroit on the teachings of the book Unbound by Neal Lozano.

I had started writing this post before leaving on vacation and wasn’t sure how I would finish it.  Little did I know then, God had already had that worked out.

In the podcast, John keyed in on the correlation between repentance and renunciation and how similar they are.  He acknowledged, however, that many of us repent, few of us renounce.  Nor should that surprise us because renunciation is primarily a part of only two key  sacramental moments of our faith life – Easter Vigil and Baptism – two sacramental moments the average Catholic typically avoids unless mandated by someone else in their life.  Maybe we should drop in on those two sometime?

When you renounce something you are done with it.  You take back your life in that way.  To forgive yourself so that you can forgive others you must renounce the sin of your guilt.  You take back the control it has on your life.  Not having the strength to renounce your life of sin gives satan all the power he needs to drag you back into that prison Christ freed you from.  Do you renounce satan and all his works?  Do you renounce sin?

The man in the mirror

Together, acceptance and renunciation allow for self-forgiveness.  Personally, this was the hardest thing for me to do in my faith development.  In the end though I forgave myself because I accepted that Christ had forgiven me.  I owned my sin as my actions that Christ called me away from.  Called me for a reason – his reason.  So I renounced that part of life, and I continue to share my witness of redemption and how living that life has made me into the Christian I am today.   Because in the end I realized that in order to forgive others as a Christian, I had to start by forgiving myself.

So brothers…are you forgiven?  Do you know it?  Do you believe it?

Are you ready for what that means?

Christ is calling you to him…so rise and walk!

YBIC

What was that you said?

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In 2009 after completing the RCIA program at my parish, I was a soul on fire.

Reading books on the Catholic faith became my new favorite hobby. Catholic radio quickly became the only thing playing in my car. More and more of my lunch hours were spent at the I. Donnelly Company on Troost Avenue and at Trinity House in Overland Park. If there was a Catholic website, I visited it. I joined a Catholic Bible Study group, started a Blog, and even bought Catholic T-Shirts to wear around just to be conversation starters with people. I couldn’t get enough fast enough.

Then one day I grew a brain cell and thought, you know I should probably ask for some direction on this. So I set an appointment with the Parish’s RCIA director, and went in and shared with her the emotional joy ride I had been on as I continued my post RCIA explosion into the faith with a raw insatiable hunger.

When we met I asked her, “Is there like a road map to follow or something? Maybe a suggested reading list? Another program like RCIA to get involved with? What do people normally do as the next step?”  I mean I needed something.  I felt like I was going to explode inside.  My desire for spiritual growth was driving nearly every thought in my head.  In response to my questions this woman just sat there straight faced and patiently waiting for me to become still. She then asked the most confounding question I had yet to hear since becoming Catholic, “Tell me about your prayer life.”

“What was that you said?” I verbally stumbled quickly tilting my head.

“Your prayer life,” she repeated slowly.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said somewhat curiously, “Same as everyone else’s I guess. What does that have to do with what I am talking about? I mean, I pray. We prayed in RCIA class and I pray at home, of course. Are their prayer’s I need to learn? Is there a book? What am I missing here,” I asked impatiently?

That’s when this woman started to smile. She then reached across her desk taking a card and a pen and wrote a name and number down.  She handed it to me and said, “Call this number and make an appointment. You’ll find what you are looking for there.” The phone number was for one of the prayer coaches that the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph employs to serve the laity in better developing a fulfilling prayer life. “To use your words,” she said laughing, “It’s the next step.”

The gentleman I eventually met with was based out of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village and we met at the church office there. What transpired in our meetings was an amazing opportunity that I still regret not taking more advantage of than I did, and one that I would highly recommend to everyone if they feel it would benefit them. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had received excellent advice in coming there and was right where I needed to be. What came of that experience was a better understanding of my conversations with God. What I learned was that it wasn’t so much about what I was saying to God as I had previously thought.  But more importantly to my faith, prayer is about how I was listening to God.

So what is prayer anyway?

If you ask 50 people that question, you may get 30 or more different answers.  From personal observation I have seen that prayer can solidify a faith like nothing else and uncertainly about what prayer is to a person can hold them back in their faith development.  But really – prayer is simple; its communication.  Prayer is the conversational part of a relationship – the most important relationship of our life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prayer through the definition given to us by St. John Damascene, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or requesting of Good things from God.”

Prayer is a part of our covenant relationship with the Father.  Prayer is spiritual communion.  paragraph 2565 of the Catechism states; …prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.  The grace of the Kingdom is ‘the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity…with the whole human spirit.’  Thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him.”

Is prayer important?

The Catechism tells us that that the need for prayer is born out of our creation.  That man, through being created by God is called to Him.  That we, as his children, search him out and call to him.  And that he, as our Father, calls to us.

From a functional perspective, we could ask if communication is important to any relationship?  If you say your relationship with your wife is great, but you never have time to talk to her, is it really as great as you think it is?  Should we ask your wife?  What if we asked God about your relationship with him?  Would he think its as great as you think it is?  Imagine a relationship with your spouse in which you never spoke, or you spoke when you were reminded to speak, or you only spoke in groups?  Don’t laugh, some marriages are like that.  But the pointlessness of that is obvious isn’t it?  What about your relationship to God?

From a practical perspective, if you are married don’t you feel that its important to speak with your wife at least once a day and get caught up on everything you have going on in your life?  What about your kids; the same?  Why should your relationship with God be any different?  Do you talk to him everyday?  Don’t you think he might want to talk to you?  You know your wife and kids do.  Really…do you not think that God might want to talk to you everyday? Have you really thought about that?  Is your prayer life as selfish as your other relationships – is it only about when you have something to say or do you make time for those who seek to be a part of your life?  Are you listening to what God has to say?  Are you listening at all?

It’s fair to say that the Catholic Church thinks that prayer is important.  The fourth out of the four sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is devoted entirely to Christian Prayer.  All of part four, 75 pages, is devoted to understanding prayer as a part of who we are as Catholics.  Looking for a better understanding of prayer?  Struggling to feel more comfortable praying, or looking for that start down a more fulfilling pray life?  The Catechism would be a great place to start.

What are some other resources for prayer?

Talk to the Priest…please.  Great resource.  Don’t like him, try another priest.  Same result: repeat process until satisfied.  It will happen eventually.

Talk to a friend.  If they can’t help you maybe you will both learn something from what you eventually discover.

Talk to your kids.  Don’t laugh: keep reading.

Talk to your spouse – try praying together. Again…Listening!

Try the Diocese prayer coach – I loved it.

Read books?  You’ll be busy for awhile researching prayer; its a long list of published works.

Like Jesus?  He had a great prayer and its said every week at Mass so its easy to remember.  Explore that one in depth. There is more to it than most people think.

One good resource to develop a more fulfilling prayer life is a prayer book. No, this won’t turn you into an old woman. Nor will it make you dependent on rote prayer. It will however, help you discover language you can use to articulate emotional needs you may or may not be having. If you think of prayer as a foreign language – you know what you want to say but feel that it would be easier to just point at pictures than actually formulate words into sentences – a prayer book might be good for you. They can also put you in listening mode.

St. Joseph’s Prayer Book is a very popular, inexpensive and widely available prayer resource. If you’re an App addict, there are an ever expanding number of Apps for your phone that can serve in this way.

My personal favorite prayer book is my Key of Heaven. I found my Key of Heaven in a used book store while vacationing with my family. We got up early one morning and walked to breakfast at the direction of the concierge to a place we wanted. In coming back we passed through a street market which trapped my wife checking out endless smells and where I found the book shop hidden behind a tent along the street center. My wife knows to steer me around used book stores like I know to steer her and my daughter around shoe stores and Bath and Body Works locations. The copy I picked up is from the 1950’s, has gold leaf trim, is leather bound, was printed in Belgium in English for Regina Press out of New York and still has the Church’s Imprimatur stamped in the back. It was the best $4 I have spent in awhile.

Now even though this book has given me a tremendous education regarding my prayer life, and also shared some insight into pre-Vatican II Faith life, the reason why it’s my favorite prayer tool is the smell. Yes, you heard me – and don’t laugh; it’s the smell. When I open the book in prayer the aroma of the old pages takes me back to the smell of the pews in the old country church my Grandmother attended and served as Treasurer for over four decades. I would go to Church with her when I visited her throughout the year. My Grandmother was the first person who ever bothered teaching me how to pray, and I always enjoyed praying with her. I loved being in that old Church and I loved how she talked to God. She was a plain spoken hard working businesswoman (and that was back then) and she spoke plainly and honestly in prayer to Jesus. She spoke from her heart, and taught me to do so as well.

But why is that experience so important to me? It’s important because I have a prayer room in my mind palace. The room is where I go in my mind when I need to pray, and that smell – like a key – allows me quicker access to the room.

My Grandmother waits for me there, in my prayer room, so we can sit together and pray in that old Church. Our pew sits at the front of the room and my space beside her is never taken.  On the other side of the room is my library of faith books I have read and Christian music I listen too. I keep a journal with those books, along with photographs of places I have visited that have helped grow my faith – the Vatican being one of my favorites. In the journal I write down all of the times I have met Christ in my life. Sometimes I can just sit in the room and re-read the journal as a way of feeling closer to Him. One wall of the room isn’t a wall at all; it’s a memory. The memory is from an early morning while backpacking in the Rocky Mountains when we watched the sunrise from a mountain top some 16,000 ft above sea level. To this day when I see that sun exploding  across the horizon I still think I can make out the face of God. The rest of the room is filled with pictures of my family and has a timeless nature to it I long ago stopped trying to understand. But it’s my place that I know I can go to and listen for the Lord. It’s a place of prayer I can carry with me everywhere.

Somewhere in my faith experience I was given a very insightful comment about prayer: The sound of God’s voice is the sound of snow falling on snow. Great description; because you need that quiet.  Never did those words take on more meaning to me than when I tried to introduce the The Examen to my kids. The Daily Examen, or daily examination of your conscience, was originally developed hundreds of years ago by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Examen has several different forms, can and should be personalized to the person using it and is even used by Protestants.  The prayers purpose is to bring to mind at the end of your day what your experiences and connections were to Jesus, and how can you learn from them.

So in challenging my kids with the practice of the daily examination we explored the idea of better understanding life’s moments in which we actually experience God or can hear his voice. At which point my son immediately pipes up with, “Oh yeah Dad, like when we are in the shower?”

Now, if you have young boys you realize that sometimes the way they frame the world for themselves can border on the bizarre. So I turned to him lost saying, “The shower? You’ve got me there bud, what do you mean?”

“You know Dad; in the shower – when the water is running and drowning out all of the other noise of life. When that continuous sound of the spray quiets everything in your head so your mind is totally at peace: That Dad…that is when I can hear God.” He was nine years old at the time, and our faith sharing has only continued to improve since.

Got prayer in your life my friend?

Are you listening?

YBIC