Written On Our Hearts

I had a pretty awesome marathon weekend of ministry and preaching down here in LA. I was running all over the place (OK, so I drove everywhere), and at one point I was giving a talk on Scripture for a young adult group called Catholic Central, down in Camarillo. As Easter is quickly coming up on us, I thought I’d share some of what I shared that night with you too. 

 

I don’t think we quite get how utterly terrifying Jesus’ resurrection was.

When Mark was writing his Gospel and telling about when Jesus defeated death, he originally finished it with this line: “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Well, he might as well have finished with something like, “And they rolled a stone across the tomb…” Not exactly the cheeriness that we’re used to on Easter, now is it? 

There are all kinds of reasons given for why Mark would have done this, but here is my favorite (at least I think this would be the coolest reason): Perhaps whoever was reading the Gospel to the earliest gatherings in the Church would read that line and then roll up the scroll and say, “And now let me tell you what happened when we walked away from that hole in the ground where we thought we’d find our best friend’s decaying body, our God, dead and buried, and we found him alive. Alive!”

And this Holy Week, it’s time we start doing the same.

Because, you see, we can read the Bible all we want (or we can not read it at all, but that’s not exactly what I’m going for here!). We can get to know all the obscure names of Palestinian cities and what happened to whomever, whenever. But unless we read the story to the finish, to the point where the tomb is empty and there is no hope, and then we set aside the book, and tell the rest of our story, it doesn’t matter how much Bible trivia we know. It doesn’t matter if we can quote chapter and verse, until we realize that the story is written on our hearts. That all the awful stuff happening in our life is no worse than an empty tomb where we thought our God was going to be. Until we read to the end and roll up the scroll and finish the story, the Bible is just another book on the shelf.

Any time we break open the Scriptures, we’re trying to find our place in the story, so we can finish the story. So we can tell others what we found in the empty tomb, and then what we found when we finally left it behind. So we can give to others what we’ve gotten out of it. So we can roll up the scroll and say, this is what God has done in my life since he came crashing into my life, totally not where I expected him to be.

 -Tim(ST)

Holy Week Survival Guide 101

Ok, so can you guys believe that Lent is almost over?! Time went by so fast! So this just means two, super awesome things: Firstly, that Easter is right around the corner. Second, that Holy Week is right next door. So what’s Holy Week? Sure you’ve heard it before, maybe in your religion or CCD class. Maybe you’ve heard a priest mention it in his homily. Well in case you’re still a little confused about this whole Holy Week excitement, here’s a little 411 on what you as a Catholic should know and why you should be preparing for it!

Holy week is the last week of lent, marking the days leading up to Easter Sunday. I like to call it the “Home Stretch” of Lent. Holy Week is so important because it’s when we as Christians celebrate and honor the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross at Calvary. 

The final days of Lent are called the Easter Triduum. It begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the Evening of Holy Thursday, it continues through Good Friday and Holy Saturday and ends with evening prayers on Easter Sunday. These are three days of heartfelt reflection of our salvation through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, as well as the ultimate celebration that Jesus conquered death on Easter through His resurrection!  Here’s a breakdown of these days and how you can make this upcoming Holy Week a meaningful one in your life:

Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday marks the day Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His 12 apostles. During this time Jesus washed the feet of his apostles (a sign of priestly ordination) and most importantly He instituted the Eucharist! So Awesome!!! On Holy Thursday there is an evening mass, in which there is a washing of the feet. I encourage all of you to attend this mass at one of our Catholic parishes. If you’re unable to attend this mass, maybe you can pray the rosary, say a Divine Mercy chaplet. Maybe you can spend some quiet time reflecting on the importance of the Eucharist in our lives. Reading the bible is also a great way to reflect on the meaning of this holy day. Try reading the Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13. 

Good Friday: Good Friday is one of the most important days EVER! It is the day Jesus paid the ultimate price for us and died for us ALL, so we could be saved! It is customary on Good Friday that one be silent from 12pm-3pm (the hour of Jesus’ death). This is a day of fasting. On Good Friday Catholic parishes don’t have mass, but do have a Communion service, followed by the Veneration of the Cross. The Veneration of the Cross is when we are given an opportunity to pray in front of a cross as a sign of reverence for our Savior who took on the Cross for our salvation. This service is usually followed by the Stations of the Cross. So what can you do to observe Good Friday? For starters, try to attend one of the Communion Services and the Veneration of the Cross at one of the local Catholic Parishes. If you cannot make it to one because you’re in school, there are other things you can do to observe this day. You can fast (remember NO meat), it’s customary to wear black on this day, don’t listen to music or watch tv, you can also commit to being silent from noon- 3pm. 

Holy Saturday: Holy Saturday is a day of silence in which we are awaiting the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If you have something to do with your family that day and have to go out, make sure you set aside a time for quiet prayer. Thank Jesus for dying for you on the cross. Maybe you can pray the rosary, a Divine Mercy Chaplet or go to the Communion Service at your Catholic parish.

Easter Sunday: Time to CELEBRATE!!!!! Easter Sunday is much more than a bunny and eggs. Easter is the day Our Lord Jesus rose from the dead!!! It’s a day to rejoice that we have a God who was willing to conquer death on our behalf and save us all. Be happy!! Go to Sunday Mass and continue to Thank God for dying and rising for us!!! 

Remember, Lent is a time of transformation. It’s a time to sacrifice and become the person God has called us to be. As we prepare ourselves for Holy Week I pray that you will continue to reflect on the Love God has for us in sending us His only Son to die for us. In doing this may you commit yourselves to observe the Easter Triduum the best you can and to walk with Jesus on His way to calvary and rejoice with Him on the day He rose from the dead.

Remember, God’s not asking us to be perfect, He’s asking us for our whole hearts, that we may serve and love Him!

Praying for you!!!

God Bless,

      Christie

 

Any Questions?

Preaching can be a funny thing. In my homiletics class (yup, we have a class for giving homilies), we learn the proper techniques of public speaking. We learn about proper eye-contact, about projecting our voice, about sticking to one point and keeping it under seven minutes. Then we get to watch ourselves over and over again on video and critique ourselves. But in the end, these are all just tools to get us ready. The real most important part of preaching is praying our way through Scripture and every day life, and pulling them together. Its about making what was real, so very real, to the people who wrote the Bible, even more real, so very real, in our own lives. 

That’s a lot to ask in seven minutes or less.

Just last week I had a fun eye-opening moment to what a homily could be. And the point is that seven minutes or less simply is not enough. At my Field Education assignment, where I get to go teach at a high school every Friday, I was helping to lead a prayer service for the first four periods of the day. By the end of it, I had read the Lazarus story and preached on it four times in two hours. Just how deep that story is, how much it can change our lives just by reading it out loud and hearing the anguish in Martha and Mary’s voices, the power in Christ’s command, and the surprise of the people as the dead man comes walking out of the tomb; honestly it was a little tiring. 

About half way into my third time through the same preaching, one of the girls I could tell wanted to ask a question. Funnily enough they don’t really teach us how to take random questions in the middle of our homilies, so I just kept going. When I finished, she kind of sheepishly asked if it was ok to ask a question. I thought it was adorable: her curiosity was coming face to face with my preparation (or lack thereof!) and my willfulness to just get through the preaching yet again.

It also made perfect sense. It’s not like I’ll ever be able to say everything I want to say. And to think I could ever preach to the point where no one had any questions is ridiculous. Finally, someone was willing to ask a question. And it made the whole prayer service so much more real. So much more than me preaching at them, and much more our getting to explore God together. 

What if homilies at Mass were more like that? What if we felt less like we were being talked at, and more like we were in this together? Now, I’m not necessarily saying our priests need to change the way they’re preaching, or that they’re just “talking at us,” but I think we all need to change the way we’re listening. I also don’t want to put our priests on the spot, during Mass or after, but what if we listened, realized we still had questions, and then asked our priests more about it afterward? 

I can’t speak for all the preachers out there, but that’s kind of an exciting prospect for me. So next time you catch me talking at you for any reason, don’t be afraid to stop me and ask me what I mean. It’s not like any of us are called to simply talk at others about God for our own benefit. I think any homily, any kind of preaching, has got to be the beginning of a conversation. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I know no homily I can give will pretend to answer even most of them. But if we have more questions after a homily, maybe that means we were listening just right. 

Don’t dare stop asking questions. And we’ll keep looking for the answers together. 

 

-Tm(ST)

You are MORE

Last night, I saw Junior High teens start to be honest. It was a great moment, albeit painful. We talked about the areas where we are really struggling to feel like we are worth something. We watched this video and suddenly there were tears.

Just remember that you are SO MUCH MORE than your past fears and failings. Listen up to Pope John Paul II–
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”
– Blessed Pope John Paul II.

See How He Loves Us

Looking ahead to Sunday’s Gospel, Martha’s remark makes perfect sense. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” How many times are we saying that to God? God, if you’re really there, my parents wouldn’t be fighting all the time. If you were really there God, my brother wouldn’t have gotten in that car accident. If you were really, really there God, I wouldn’t feel so alone. I wouldn’t feel like I have to do any of that awful stuff I hate doing just to make people like me. If you were just there God, everything would be just how I want it. 

But that’s not the Jesus we meet in the Gospel today. We meet a Jesus who finds out that “the one he loves” is sick and dying, and he stays right where he is for two days. Jesus lets Lazarus die! His disciples say, aren’t we gonna go to Lazarus so you can heal him? And then Martha says what she says. And then her sister Mary says it to: Lord, where have you been? Don’t you care about us! You could have saved my brother!

But Jesus says it’s for the glory of God.

This was not an easy thing for Jesus. He had to play a hard game, if you will, with Lazarus and his sisters. And trust me, it’s not something he was happy doing. The shortest verse in the whole Bible makes this pretty clear. John 11:35 simply says: And Jesus wept. So few words, but almost the whole story of God coming into our world, the whole story of Lent, the whole story of Easter, crashing into our lives and changing history forever. And Jesus wept.

The Lord of lords, the King of kings, the God of gods has made himself one of us, even to the point of laughing with us, dancing with us, working with us by the sweat of his brow, struggling with success and failure like the rest of…and crying with us. 

Now that’s Lent for us, if you ask me, especially with how close we’re getting to Easter. I’ve got to say, may Lenten promises have not been easy. The little (or big) sacrifices that come with Lent are not supposed to be painful. Sure, we want to give something up, especially if it won’t be easy, but it’s not about making it hurt. It’s about being face to face with the God who weeps with us when we’re suffering, when he knows he has to let us hurt a little bit so that we might see his glory. It’s about letting go of something that might get in the way of loving him, and being loved by him. I gave up meat this Lent, something I’ve done before. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I knew I could do it. So it’s not so much the change in diet, as the way it’s affecting my very active life. Getting on the bike is not so easy when I’m not getting the kind of food I’m need. So not only is my sacrifice the meat I’d like to eat, so much as dealing with the fact that cycling is not my life. My sacrifice is bringing God back to the center and focus of my Lent, and of my life. 

I know that’s a pretty simply example. It’s no where near what Martha and Mary went through watching their brother die. It’s not even close to any of those going hungry around the world not out of some pious devotion, but because they simply have no food. But it’s not all about you. It’s not all about me. Our sacrifices are always pointing to something much greater than ourselves. So if you start hearing those voices, telling you to give up, to give in, you might have to be patient that much more. 

Perhaps Jesus was tempted to go and save Lazarus before he died. But he waited, he let God be the center and the focus.

And yes, he wept because of it.

But then he also brought Lazarus back from the dead. 

 

-Tim(ST)

Not What We Do, But Who We Are

 

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Every time I receive a new Ministry here the Seminary, no matter how much my classmates and I are celebrated and congratulated, I’ve learned more and more that it’s not about me. When I received Candidacy last year and officially became a candidate for Holy Orders, I quickly learned that more than anything it was a firmer call to service. Some of you made it up here when I became an instituted Lector, and you saw me make a deeper commitment to the word of God, which is turning my life upside down in wonderful ways everyday. And then there was this weekend, when some more of you came to be with me as I was called to become an Acolyte, and so I was called to a more profound love and sharing of the Eucharist. 

A couple of things really struck me this weekend about having you here to share this special time with all of us (and to know those of you who couldn’t make it we’re praying pretty hard for us too). First of all, to know I have all your prayers and that some of you could actually be here for me was such a joy. I think about how I’m called to ministry and called to be a leader and all of that. And so often I’m told that what’s happening when I’m with you all is that I’m “ministering” to you. To an extent that is true, but yes, there are friendships too. I’m “there for you” on so many parts of your faith journey: retreats, camps, Confirmations, Adoration, Mass. But I really am so grateful that this time around, through your being here and through your prayers, that you were “there for me.” Yes, the minister needs to be supported too, and for you all I’m that much more thankful. Having some of you here for me made the connection between what happens here at the Seminary and what happens “out there” so real.

Another thought I have is about what it means to be an Acolyte now. It’s now a few days since I was called into this new ministry, and I haven’t really done anything to exercise it yet, or so I had been thinking. I was getting kind of impatient, wanting to serve at Mass, wanting to help out with Adoration. Then it dawned on me this morning, wondering when I was going to get a chance to put my new ministry to good use: It’s not all about putting on the vestments and being out in front of everyone, leading so clearly. This is at its foundation a ministry of prayer. We’re exercising our ministry every time we put ourselves before the Blessed Sacrament, every time we receive Communion, even every time we set our hearts to praying for all of you and your own growing love for the mystery that is the Eucharist. We’re putting our ministry to good use when we seriously approach the same mystery in our studies, when we dive into Scripture, when we constantly ask the questions: why would Jesus do this for us? Who are we that he would love us this way? How can we be worthy? Our ministry is not always so obvious as serving at Mass or preparing Adoration. It is not just something we do, but someone we are. It is in our prayer, in our studies, in the questions we ask.

And having some of you there and knowing the rest of you were holding us up in prayer was as clear a sign a there could be: I do what I do, I am who am, because of you all, for you all.

-Tim(ST)

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A Glimpse of Heaven?

“The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.”
-Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” #88

Some body said that going to Religious Ed. Congress down in Anaheim is like going to heaven. Ok, that might be stretching it a little far (no need for liturgical commentary here, or complaints about parking either). What struck me the most about this weekend was just the sheer amount of people and how many I knew and had not seen in so long and how good it was to be around them again. I had missed so many of these people so deeply, without realizing it until I saw them again. I think that might be one of the small joys of heaven: to look around and realize just how deeply we do love the people around us; even the people we haven’t seen in so long; even the people we’ve never met before. 
Still, one of the struggles for me this weekend was that there were just so many people. It was like a double edged sword: so many people to see and greet and chat with, but not enough time to do it all. I found myself thinking, this weekend was so full of these quick, but joyful, like 5 minute interactions, that it was just exhausting. And then I also had a few moments to actually sit down and go deeper with a few friends, old and new, and realize how much more challenging that was. 
You see, it’s really easy for me as a seminarian and, God willing, future priest, and for all of us really I think, to go from one quick fix greeting and handshake or hug to the next, with hardly a look in the eye, hardly a sharing of real intimate time. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to do that when I could, with as short a time as I had with each and every person I came across, but I’ve got to admit that it just felt safer and easier at times to keep it short, to avoid the depth that can come from actually relating, actually spending real time with each and every person. 
Not to take away from an short hi’s and bye’s I may have had with any of you (for those I’m thankful for sure), but I’m so grateful that God gave me some of those deeper moments, those more challenging moments, when I could put my smile and handshake away for a few more minutes and be a little more real, a little deeper, a little more intimate. I keep thinking of so many of Jesus’ miracles and healings, and how intimate they must have been. Constantly people are bombarding him for requests and blessings, and I never once get the feeling that he rushed them. Sometimes he took them aside and sometimes he had long conversations with them. Every time, though, it was a relationship (or at least he desired a relationship with them), it was more than a quick fix. We’ve got to do the same. If we’re going to try to be like Jesus, to in a way be healers, and friends, like him, we can’t go from person to person without caring for them, without caring for their souls. It feels safer for me to guard myself at these huge events like Youth Day and Congress, but the most rewarding interactions are those that challenge me the most, when in the midst of thousands and thousands of people, I feel like I’m alone with jut that one person. The way it must have felt to be loved, to be challenged, to be looked in the eyes by Jesus. 

-Tim(ST)

Goin’ With the Wind

I like to be on the move. From one place to another in ministry, it’s almost like I just can’t sit still. That’s not such a bad thing. I get to meet a lot of people (funy how much joy that brings, considering how shy I grew up), see a lot of places, share my talents and hopes and struggles. And down here in Camarillo, it can get pretty breezy as the wind comes rushing trough the canyons on these warm (winter? Spring? Summer?) mornings. So that’s a pretty apt way to think if the Holy Spirit. Blowing like the wind, wherever he will, and taking us along for the ride if we merely give our consent. After all, the word for spirit in the New Testament is the same word as for wind. And in the Old Testament, it’s the same word as for breath. God’s Spirit breathes life and goes where he wants like the wind, invisibly, softly, powerfully. 
But there is something even more challenging about the Spirit for me than going every where and doing everything I have the time to do. And that is simply sitting still, listening to God in prayer, and finding out that sometimes he simply wants us to sit still, be right where we are, and know that he is God. 
I was texting back and forth with my mom just the other day, when I was getting back to the Sem from a nice weekend home. I was thanking her for dealing with my constant running around even when I’m home, from one ministry to the next. I had come home Friday night after a long day of teaching at my field education placement at a high school in Oxnard, only to go back up to the Seminary Saturday for a young adult group in the evening, spend the night there, come home Sunday morning for Mass with mom and dad, stay for dinner, and then get back up to the Sem for classes Monday morning. The weekend before was not much different: Reawaken up there with you all on Friday night, driving down to Thousand Oaks in the rain for a Core Team meeting for the young adult group in Ventura region, a huge fundraising dinner in Downtown Los Angeles that night, and then back up to Camarillo Sunday morning for Mass at my Sunday parish. Not a lot of room to breathe, by I love it!
I found myself almost apologizing to my mom about how little I’m around even when I’m at home. I told her, “It’s not that I can’t say no to these things, it’s that I love to be able to say yes to them all.” It sometimes comes up in my annual reviews here at the Sem, when we go over with the faculty how our year has gone and look for where we can continue to grow, that I tend to take on a lot of responsibilities. And I agree, but I love being able to say yes, to run wild like the Spirit, free as the wind. 
But then again, there is a lot of wisdom in their question: sometimes the Spirit is asking us to go everywhere and do everything. But sometimes God wants us to sit still and hear his voice and know that he is God. As I’ve said here before, God may not always be in that powerful, tree rending, sand stirring, fire driving wind. God’s voice can be pretty small, and pretty still. How will we know what he wants if we don’t sit still for a minute and listen? 

-Tim(ST)