Monday, August 21, 2017

Forgive Yourself

I have encountered a lot of broken souls in my counseling vocation. Addicts, abusers, runaways, homeless, incarcerated, paroled and more. I’ve spoken with the haunted and angry, as well as the broken and defeated. So many sad and empty eyes that once shined with hope and promise.
If there are any cracks in your protective emotional armor, this mass of tragic humanity can break your heart. So many people carrying huge emotional burdens. They’re seemingly unable to break through their pain and truly live again.
There are no neat and tidy solutions that fit every injured spirit, but there is one thing we all must do if we want a better life. If you can allow yourself to do this, you will free yourself to begin living anew. You will create a path to personal growth, better habits and greater fulfillment. What is this healing thing? Forgive yourself.
A dad just left my office who shared that he used cocaine for eleven years before he stopped using drugs. However, decades later his adult sons continue to blame dad for their problems today. This dad gets lonely without his family and wishes that his sons would visit or call him more often. Regretfully, while he has stopped using, his sons are all using drugs today.
A message about forgiving yourself can be the solution for not walking around in shame. Whether you are a person of faith or not, this message of forgiving yourself is important. 
Perhaps you are an alcoholic or drug user who has hurt many people in your life. Maybe you chose not to have the baby and are conflicted with the decision. Perhaps you weren’t really there for your children. Whatever it is, forgive yourself. You are not perfect, none of us are. The sins of our past don’t define who we choose to be today and who we will be in the future. Acknowledge that you stumbled. You blew it. You hurt people. Scars and bad blood and a lot of carnage may have been left in your wake. You may have to pay some dues, make things as right as you can, apologize to those hurt. Some will never forgive you. But in the end, you have to forgive yourself. You have to unshackle that burden. Allow for the statute of limitations on past transgressions to end. I know, you don’t think you deserve it. You don’t think you can. But you’re wrong. It really is possible to forgive yourself. And then move on. Why? Because a better life requires this.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are still shackled with guilt about their poor judgment in the past. Our Lord comes to those who have the faith to realize that we are not perfect but can count on God’s mercy. Bring comfort to those hearts that have been hurt by our selfish attitudes and behaviors and give healing to those who have stumbled and can count on your forgiveness. Help us all to receive the grace to forgive ourselves and move on. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are You Walking on Water or Sinking Like a Stone


Let’s be honest with ourselves when we are talking about our faith. Some days you walk on water and other days you sink like a stone.  Faith invariably gives way to doubt before it again recovers its confidence, then it loses it again.

Remember the story of Peter walking on water. The story goes this way: The disciples had just witnessed a major miracle, Jesus fed more than 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Having just witnessed a miracle, their faith was strong. Soon afterwards they get into a boat to cross a lake. Jesus is not with them. A few miles out they run into a fierce storm and begin to panic. Jesus comes walking towards them on the water. Initially they’re frightened and take him for a ghost. But he calms their fear by telling them, right from the center of the storm, that he is not just Jesus but that he is God’s very presence.

Peter is immediately buoyed up in his faith and asks Jesus to let him too walk on the water. Jesus invites him to do so and Peter gets out of the boat confidently and begins to walk on the water. But then, realizing what he was doing and the incredulous nature of it, he immediately starts to sink, cries out for help, and Jesus has to reach out and rescue him from drowning.

What we see illustrated here are two things that lie at the heart of our experience of faith, namely, that faith (literally) has its ups and downs and that it works best when we don’t confuse it with our own efforts.

Faith has its ups and downs. Our own faith works exactly like that, at times it lets us walk on water and at other times we sink like a stone. The gospel-image of Peter walking on the sea speaks for itself.

We easily get discouraged because our faith vacillates in this way. My spiritual mentor was being wheeled into surgery and he was worried, but he folded his hands and prayed: “Lord, Your will be done,” and immediately he felt a sense of peace. Faith works like that: We can walk on water only as long as we don’t think that we are doing it with our own strength.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who feel like that they are sinking like a stone. Remind them that the Spirit comes into our life with a deep secret that sometimes we know, and then not, and then we know it again.  Faith works like that, some days we walk on water, other days we sink like a stone, and then later we walk on water. 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Glimpse of Christ

I shared the story about the Transfiguration when we encounter Jesus, who reveals a glimpse of his divinity to Peter, James and John to prepare them for the cross, which would precede his resurrection.

I believe if we are paying attention, there are many times in our life when we come to glimpse a scene of perfect beauty. Whether a sunset, a beautiful round barn, a work of art, a beautiful piece of music, a sermon made by your shepherd, or the goodness and sincerity of people, that glimpse sustains us over a long time.

In our community, Tim has been working hard for over a year and a half to get folks in the county to support the Charlotte Comfort Home. However, it can be difficult to get folks from many different regions to work together for a common cause. A tad discouraged that his committee had yet to generate time and energy and funding, he felt discouraged and ready to call it quits.
This is where he was given a glimpse of the Risen Christ who appeared not in a dazzling display of light like fireworks. Rather, it came from a person who listened and reassured this humble leader that he would join his committee and work on raising the funds to restore the parish building that would offer comfort to the dying and care for family members.
You see, this Transfiguration moment is about letting our light shine before others. That is exactly what Tim found in the voice of his friend. We let the light shine when we live our lives as “other Christs.” 
To be “other Christs,” we need to reflect Christ to others by loving God, neighbor, and self – to follow the heart of our faith, the triple-love message  of Jesus Christ.  We do this when we forgive our enemies, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry, console the sorrowful, instruct those searching for a purpose, care for the dying, visit those in our hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.
It’s four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and I just returned from church. No, I did not preach a four-hour homily. Rather, I visited the sick in two hospitals in Buffalo, extended our blessings to Bishop Peplowski at Brothers of Mercy and visited a dear friend who has multiple sclerosis and wanted to let me know that it’s time to have a little fun and set a date for dinner.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who radiate your light to those in need. Give us the grace to do better and let our shine before all in need of our helping hands.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Parable of the "Smarties"

On a recent Road Scholar trip to Acadia National Park, my friend provided treats to all the hikers during their lunch break. While people were hydrating with water and eating their sandwiches after a two-hour hike, he reached into his backpack and gave them each a treat. People were surprised and appreciated his kind gesture.

This is what the parable of the mustard seed is all about. It’s about those small acts of kindness, whatever it was, that stay in our memory. Small acts, of cruelty of kindness, leave their effect long after the effects of events of seemingly much greater importance have passed away.
There is, I believe, a profound lesson in this. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus assures us, is about mustard seeds, about small seemingly unimportant things, but which, in the long run, are the big things.

I have always found it ironic that we easily forget the big things, the events that seem of great importance. Who won the Nobel prize for literature two years ago? Who won the academy awards last year? Who won the Super Bowl three years ago, the World Series last year, the Stanley Cup this year? It’s funny how quickly we tend to forget these things. It is also curious what we do not forget.
We tend to forget quickly who won such or such an award, or who starred in such and such a movie or play. But we remember, and remember vividly, with all the healing and grace it brought, who was nice to us all those years ago on the playground at school or who gave us “Smarties” on top of Cadillac Mountain after a challenging three hour hike.

Falls come, winters come, springs come, summers come and go, and sometimes the only thing we can remember from a given year is some small mustard seed, of cruelty or kindness. Taking the time to cross the Canadian border to buy “Smarties” for your hiking partners was a wonderful act of kindness that will never be forgotten. So when you wake up tomorrow morning, it’s your choice what mustard seeds you want to plant.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and thank them for all the small acts of kindness that they have given to their family and friends. I believe that God does cares a great deal about the small things we do for one another.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Delight in Giving


This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and more than likely many folks travelled to their cabins for the weekend. I didn’t want you to miss the following story that gives us a profound insight into the meaning of the Trinity. Simply put, God takes delight when we can provide.

Let me explain why there has been no Sonshine these past few months.
After a two-year application process, our neighbor was awarded a state grant to remodel her home both inside and out. During the construction, she lived at her sister’s mobile home, while Sue fed, watered, and scooped litters for her nine cats twice a day for five weeks.

During the remodeling process, I hauled two tons of debris out of her basement and garage. Her furniture was rotten and broken so I started a search for good condition replacements. She needed a working refrigerator and stove and my parish offered her the appliances from the rectory.
Now that’s precisely what the Spirit of Jesus is all about. She needed working appliances, the parish had the parts, so let’s give it to her. The spirit moves us to go beyond what’s expected, to be as generous as the Father has been generous to us.

Now God enjoys those moments when we can provide, like when a mother brings joy to her child, when people in our parish bring food for poor children, and donating appliances.

 We should take delight that we are able to give delight, the uniqueness of being able to give delight, the joy of giving. To do these things is to do what God does and so to feel what God feels.

This afternoon, our senior lady was taking a walk around our farm and I asked her how was her new bed. This was also donated by a local furniture store. She looked at me with a smile and looking up into heaven simply said “wonderful.” It was that twinkle in her eyes and her smile in which I saw the delight of God when we can provide for another.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who continue to be generous in giving delight to their family and neighbors. Now you know how God feels whenever you provide for another person in need. That’s the true meaning of the Trinity. Enjoy your Summer!
PS: This neighbor still needs a new hot water tank, bedroom dresser, desk, table and chairs.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Doubt and Surprise

This Sunday millions of Christians will raise their voices to share in the ancient Easter acclamation, “Christ is risen! But what if you don’t believe in resurrection, or at least aren’t sure? Perhaps you’ve been attending church for years but feel a little left out, even guilty, on Easter morning as you wonder whether Christ was really raised from the dead. Or maybe you don’t often go to church but are willing to concede doing something “spiritual” as you attend Easter service with your in-laws. Or perhaps you flat out think resurrection is fantasy, something that just couldn’t happen.

If any of these conditions describes you, it turns out you’re in good company, as this is the attitude of most folks on that first Easter morning. Notice, when the heavenly messengers first announced the news of Jesus’ resurrection, no one said, “Praise God” or “Hallelujah,” let alone, “I knew it — just like he said!” That’s right — not a single one of Jesus’ disciples at first believed the report of his resurrection. In all four-gospels, it appears that the natural response to word of the resurrection is doubt, fear, and bewilderment.

How come? For practical reasons the evangelists recognized that the resurrection is, quite literally, incredible — that is, not believable.  Resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated; it’s the claim that God entered human history and created a new reality all together. Which, quite frankly, can be frightening. After all, if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?  

Second, notice that faith and doubt are closer together than we might imagine. Doubt, questions, even downright skepticism — these aren’t the opposite of faith, but an essential ingredient. Faith, after all, isn’t knowledge; rather, faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews: 11:1).

So let me share a true story to help you put aside any doubt about Easter. Her name is Maggie, a neighbor and cancer survivor. She had to mortgage her home to pay her hospital bills. At 6.5% interest on that loan, half her social security goes to pay off her debt. Over a year ago, I took her to her bank in the hope of refinancing her loan at a lower rate. Initially, the loan officer said no problem. But three months later, Maggie shared that she was denied because she had no fire insurance and she had no extra funds to pay any additional premiums.

Ten days ago on a Wednesday, I called the Refinance Dept of her bank and explained her dilemma. After four hours on the phone, she put her thumbs up in the air with a big grin. She gives me the phone and Shane, the bank customer service rep, said: “Father, we can do this!” That was an Easter moment.

The bank promised that it would refinance her loan from 6.5% to
4 % and that would reduce her debt by $100 per month. This bank listened, lowered it rates and help an impoverished senior maintain some dignity. Now that’s a resurrection moment. There is a God who cares about her people.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that Easter was a day with church family and friends to celebrate something incredibly true. Christ is Risen, Indeed!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Finding God in a Donut

At our retreat, a participant shared that she found God in donuts. All kidding aside, her memory, as a child was a five-year-old unrefined child who didn’t think that she was anything special. She somehow found herself inside a church and she remembered watching the people eating donuts. Perhaps, it was coffee social after a morning service. She felt awkward and hungry, but nobody looked down on her or said anything to make her feel unwanted. At one point, she noticed that people were putting money into a basket for the donuts, and she felt like a “bad little girl” for taking a donut. Instead, out of nowhere, someone placed a few coins in her hand and let her put them in the basket. No nasty looks or nasty comments, so these must be God’s special angels.

Life can be messy and maybe you have memories about your past in which you felt awkward, out of place, someone who didn’t belong, or worse you had no one in your life that made you feel special.

One of the topics we discussed at the parish retreat was: “Life is Messy.”
For example, when a patient was told that they have cancer. You walk out of the doctor’s office and your head is just spinning, and you realize that nothing else in the world has changed. Life goes on and everyone is just going around their business, going about doing their thing. Nobody knows what you’re struggling with. Yet in reality, we’re all struggling with something. A tough childhood where no one made you feel special, or you suffered the humiliation and shame of an injustice that still haunts you in your dreams. 

It’s important that we realize that everyone’s carrying a heavy burden. It’s important that we realize everyone’s struggling with something. It’s important that we realize that everyone is fighting a hard battle. Because when we do realize that, we treat people differently. That means we surrender our tendency to judge others, to gossip, or put other people down.  

We are challenged to see one another as Christ sees us, women and men who are not perfect but in whom God has limitless love. Sometimes, we even need to see that in ourselves.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they learn to be gentle with themselves because you got your own struggles. And give us the grace to be gentle with other people, because everybody is fighting a hard battle. Life is messy, but nobody can take your hope from you. So hold onto your hope no matter how messy life gets, and share it with everyone who crosses your path.