Gotta Let It Burn…

wood_burning_fire_closeupQuestion: What does a fire do?

Most people don’t ever see a real fire burning real logs anymore, which is a shame. Besides the obvious niceties, seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling a fire can also teach us a lot about life with the Lord. Like all of creation, fire teaches us. It points us to our Father (it is our Father in a certain sense) and speaks of what lies behind the thin material veil before us. Look at a fire and you will glimpse what God is about.

Answer: a fire purifies and it transforms. Listen to St. John of the Cross:

Fire, when applied to wood, first dehumidifies it, dispelling all moisture and making it give off any water it contains. Then it gradually turns the wood black, makes it dark and ugly, and even causes it to emit a bad odor. By drying out the wood, the fire brings to light and expels all those ugly and dark accidents that are contrary to fire. Finally, by heating and enkindling it from without, the fire transforms the wood into itself and makes it as beautiful as itself. (The Dark Night)

A fire does not tolerate the impurities of a piece of wood. It puts it through a period of cleansing and refinement. It changes it; makes it pure by making it purely wood, without any of its original imperfections. This is not simply an end in itself but so that the fire can transfigure this dead piece of wood into itself – something it could never have done for itself.

Is this not what God does for us?

Our God comes, he does not keep silence, / before him is a devouring fire, / round about him a mighty tempest. / He calls to the heavens above / and to the earth, that he may judge his people: / “Gather to me my faithful ones, / who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” (Psalm 50:3-5)

Though as dead as a piece of wood in our sins (Eph. 2:5), mixed through with soot and covered in barnacles, the living flame of the Lord engulfs and mercifully purifies us. He doesn’t tolerate the evil that sullies us. He wants to destroy it, annihilate it, burn it away. This simple fact should blow our minds: if we stick close to Him, He promises to make us 100% pure and whole – free from all that clings to us and steals our happiness.

It will hurt. It will come through suffering. It will involve a painful detachment and uprooting. For this reason, it is only with a great deal of either naivety or courage (hopefully the latter) we can pray one of those highly consequential prayers, “Lord, kindle in me the fire of your love.” His love is a fire – and it burns.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

What is this purification for? Transformation.

We bear a tremendous inner poverty akin to a dead piece of wood, but once purified of all that keeps us from accepting the life (the flame) of God, we can be ignited by the spark of His Love and transfigured into an amazing, heat-giving, light-giving fire! We are transformed into a royal priesthood: able to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices billowing up to Him. And in this sacrifice – in this gift of self – we find abundant life, joy, happiness, peace and glory.

In this context do St. Paul’s words blaze and combust:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

Now the coup de grâce: this purification (i.e. deeper conversion) and transformation wrought by the fire of God inevitably and inescapably leads to mission. A fire that is really aflame is always felt and seen by others. In fact, if left to its natural course and habitat, a fire that is really burning will pass its heat along – it will ignite others as well! A flaming log doesn’t keep to itself, but shares what it has received with others. It is set aglow with dazzling light. And what is set aglow is meant to be seen.

Seqouia_Forest_Fire

Thus, disciples burn. They burn with the holy, engulfing, beautiful fire of God. They are purified, made whole, transformed and then sent like wildfire to bathe the whole world in this vibrant glow.

Brothers and sisters, let’s be disciples. Let’s look into the fire of God’s love with trust! We must understand that it comes to purify, to heal, to enlighten and to transform. And then, let us not be afraid of the flame we have been given, but instead go forth into the world in the confidence of God’s power.

For this we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love!”

Now go make a fire.

Scriptural Postscript: pray with 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10; Titus 2:14; Romans 12:1; Psalm 119:4; Hebrews 12:28. Also, pray with this song Fuego De Dios by Hillsong United.

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Grow Up: Become a Child

mother-teresa[1]

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

How often does the wisdom of God prove to be radically different from the wisdom of mankind?

A good illustration of this is in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. At first, Jesus’ disciples approach him because they are hungry. And, seeing their hunger, Jesus deliberately intensifies it by speaking of the “the true bread from heaven… which comes down and gives life to world.” This bread is better than the manna that fed their ancestors for years in the desert. This is the only bread one ever needs to eat. Naturally, His disciples are sold and salivating – resolutely declaring, “Lord, give us this bread always!”

And, after rising to a crescendo, with the next few lines Jesus loses more disciples than any other time of his earthly life. He says, “I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.”

What the disciples expected to get was not what Jesus was prepared to give. He was prepared to give something much greater. Likewise, throughout the whole Bible, what God tells His people to do often baffles them just as much as it baffles us nowadays. What our natural gut-instinct tells us will be effective is often the opposite of the solution the Lord gives. And doesn’t this shock us every time?

Just look at the very life of Jesus. Mother Teresa has great words that are pertinent here:

“You know, [we] don’t understand. Jesus came into the world with the most important message [and task] of all time and he had only thirty-three short years to communicate [and accomplish] it. And he spent thirty years doing nothing!” (I Loved Jesus in The Night, pg. 72)

Combine that thought with the fact that the climax of this “redemption” – this “Good News” – was to come through the brutal death of the protagonist and we throw up our hands in puzzlement. This plan for saving the world from all of its problems and redeeming creation itself is just simply not how we, as human beings, would go about things. We would come in with power, wealth, talent and a huge conglomerate wad of “the best the world has to offer.” God (in this world at least) reveals His glory in more magnificent ways.

Lloyd Greenhaw, a confident, jovial, shoot-from-the-hip, Texas rancher-type who leads international missions for Renewal Ministries all over the world, puts it like this: “We live in an upside-down world.” If you want to save your life, lose it. If you want life, you must die. If you want to be rich, become poor. If you want to be filled, be emptied. The list goes on. Just one look at the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) reveals how God’s idea of blessedness is a 180-degree spin from ours.

So, now the question: what does this mean for us as disciples?

Surely, we want to be great disciples. We want to produce fruit. We have (or we should have) a fountain of magnanimous aspirations boiling over within our hearts. Pope John Paul II recognized this when, in addressing young adults throughout the world, he said,

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… the refusal to allow yourself to be grounded down by mediocrity.” (Prayer Vigil at World Youth Day 2000)

We want to be great and we should want to be great. But, how do we achieve greatness?

Jesus answered this for us. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). And our hearts are pierced with bewilderment and wonder once again. How can this be possible? Because the ways of God are not the ways of man.

The disciple is not one who has just given some measly intellectual assent to a set of ideas, but one who has received the “spirit of sonship” so that now…

“When we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:15-17)

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God. Through God we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters and, therefore, heirs to everything He has to give us (Gal. 4:6). This means two things.

First, once again, that we are born to be great. We should hunger for greatness, for glory and for producing magnificent fruit. Notice that when the disciples asked Jesus about how to achieve greatness (Matt. 18:1), He didn’t rebuke them – He answered their question. To not long for glory and for greatness is to not recognize the reality of who we are: namely, children of God.

Secondly, if we want to be great (and if we want to be great disciples), we must come, as children with empty hands, to our loving Father, being nourished by Him and Him alone. We must be made humble. We must become small. We must realize that the only way to have a “big impact” is to be totally present to the little and insignificant things we have to do at each moment. That in the very smallest things (like this moment right now), we meet the very greatest (the infinity of God’s presence).

In this way, we live as children – constantly and forever living in the presence of our Father, allowing His will to guide every inch of our lives. It is an eternal paradox of that “upside-down world” that if we want to be great, we must be small. It is in our smallness that we can rest more firmly in the embrace and power of our Father who loves us. How else could a woman that looks like this change so many hearts?

President_Reagan_presents_Mother_Teresa_with_the_Medal_of_Freedom_1985

This is our privilege and our call – that you and I are each a child of God.

Brothers and sisters, let us live in that truth. Let us abandon ourselves totally to Him, allowing Him to purify us, in His Love, into the pure gold we are created to be. Let us trust our Father. Let us hope in Him. Let us love Him by a complete gift of ourselves. There is no other path for the disciple to take.

Scriptural postscript: pray with Sirach 3:17-24; Psalm 50:15-17; Micah 2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Developing a Heart for God’s People

Over the past few weeks, Joey McCoy and Pete Burak had the opportunity to participate on the EWTN television show, Crossing the Goal.  The normal hosts temporarily stepped aside to let four members of FOCUS and the i.d.916 guys run the show.  The links to the first two shows are below:

Why the New Evangelization?

 Win – Developing a Heart for God

The video below is the third episode on Developing a Heart for God’s People.  Visit http://www.crossingthegoal.com or http://www.ewtn.com to learn more about the show and the schedule for future episodes.

Generation ‘Maybe’

ZitsNonCommittal

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

These are challenging words from Jesus. They cut to the heart and demand a response. Jesus invites us to count the cost, and decide whether He is worth following. Are we willing to endure hardship, suffering, and pain for the hope of eternal glory? Are we willing to deny our own desires in order to be purified by the will of God? Are we willing to follow wherever Jesus leads; in short, are we willing to be a disciple?   

Unfortunately, I believe the response of most of my generation to those questions would be: “maybe”. Very often I fall into the same non-commital attitude that infects my peers. “Yeah ok, I might come,” or “Maybe I can make it,” are two common phrases that accompany virtually every invitation. We love to keep our options open since something better or more exciting could appear at any moment. We struggle to commit to seeing a movie on a Friday night, let alone big things like marriage, children, or faith. I’ve come to realize that this irrational fear of commitment is both destructive and a huge obstacle to knowing, loving, and serving God. God doesn’t want wishy-washy followers; He desires decisiveness and intentionality.

A key to understanding true discipleship and therefore recognizing the twisted nature of being non-committal is illustrated by the words of Christ, “If any man could come after me, let him deny himself…” It seems to me that commitment to Christ requires a willingness to ignore or even reject our own desires. To be His follower involves an acceptance that we follow Him. He comes first. I have often heard my generation described as selfish or self-centered and it’s clear that the spirit of this age wants every individual person to think for themselves, seek personal pleasure, and fulfill one’s own dreams. This is the essence of narcissism, which explains why my generation continues to fall away from Christ at a staggering rate. Heaven forbid we follow anything since that could mean a submission of our will to another. We don’t like many rules, but “think for yourself or do what feels right,” is one rule we eagerly embrace. Because of this, I think we can aptly be called “Generation Maybe.”  We might do this or we could do that, as long as it fits into the plan we have for ourselves. This is not what God intended and this cannot characterize a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We all have dreams and we all have some idea of what we think will make us happy and fulfilled. We long to be included, loved, and celebrated, and that’s ok. Additionally,  the options for pleasure and fun have never been more numerous, and the freedom to choose is intoxicating. However, only through commitment to Christ can we experience those things that we most deeply long for in our hearts. We can continue to operate as a generation full of “me” people, shrinking from the slightest sign of commitment. The Lord offers us a life-giving alternative: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

What’s your answer?

Please don’t say, “Maybe.”

True Love – Part II

Macklemore-Ryan-Lewis-Same-Love-Music-Video

*This is the second part of an article written by Peter Herbeck entitled True Love.  To read Part I click here*

What the Church Teaches

The teaching of the Catholic Church is presented clearly and with genuine compassion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357-2359):

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Here the Church is teaching the truth in love. She is fulfilling the command of the Lord to “love your neighbor as yourself.” She knows that she must communicate the objective truth about human sexuality and marriage as an expression of her love for persons with homosexual attractions. Homosexual acts are described as “intrinsically disordered.” Note, it does not say persons with homosexual attractions are in themselves intrinsically disordered. They are, in the eyes of the Church, children of God, who bear the image of God, persons with inherent dignity who are called and destined to live with God forever.

It is the homosexual act that is intrinsically disordered because it violates the objective goods or the essential truth of the sexual act. The sexual act is, by nature, in its essence, the one flesh union of two persons, which is open to life. As Dr. Janet Smith puts it, “sex is for babies and bonding.” It is ordered to reproduction and union which are both made possible by “sexual complementarity.” Homosexual acts fail to recognize the essential, objective, unchanging truth about the purpose of the sexual act.

The Church recognizes that marriage is an institution that the Church did not create. Every society known to man has recognized marriage as an institution that unites children with their parents. It is the fundamental building block of human civilization. The Church has no power to change its teaching on homosexual activity or marriage. She didn’t create or design the fundamental purpose for either one; she simply recognizes the intrinsic meaning of both.

What motivates the Church’s teaching is love. There is no hate, bigotry or animus toward homosexual persons. Certainly, there are some in the church who are bigots, but that isn’t the source of the Church’s teaching. It’s the same love the Church expresses when she speaks against premarital sex, masturbation, prostitution, adultery, fornication, and pornography. Each one of these acts, in some way, suppresses the truth about the meaning, purpose and design of human sexuality.

So it is with tough love that the Church passes on to us the teaching of the Scriptures, as well as the truth revealed in the natural law. To fail to teach it, or to promote what is contrary to it, is to “rejoice in what is wrong,” and to promote a “destructive lie.”

My Truth

Finally, what makes the Church’s teaching such a challenge in these days is the cultural dominance of what Pope Benedict XVI described as the “dictatorship of relativism.” It is essentially the rejection of any standard of truth outside my own personal experience or subjective understanding. The only truth that is decisive, especially in the sexual realm, is “my truth.” The ultimate standard or measure of truth is my own personal choice, what I determine to be true for myself.

This is a game the Church cannot play. It’s a lie. It’s not only the suppression of the truth about the meaning of human sexuality; it is a form of idolatry. To live in the truth is to be rightly related to reality. It means to live in the real world, not the world I create for myself. The reason we have become so confused about things that are so obvious is that we have decided to shape reality according to our own design. We don’t want God’s design for reality; we want reality on our terms. We want to be gods.

This is the root of our confusion and current struggle. The only way out is repentance. We must turn again, wholeheartedly toward God. We must welcome reality on his terms, to humbly and gratefully receive his design for human life, and to live in His truth with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. It’s the only way to love. It is true love.

True Love – Part I

Macklemore-Ryan-Lewis-Same-Love-Music-Video By Peter Herbeck

“We press play, don’t press pause, Progress, march on! With a veil over our eyes, we turn our back on the cause. ‘Till the day that my uncles can be united by law…a certificate on paper isn’t going to solve it all, but it’s a damn good place to start…whatever God you believe in we come from the same one, strip away the fear, underneath, it’s all the same love. About time that we raised up! Love is patient, love is kind. Love is patient, love is kind…”

These are some of the lyrics of an enormously popular song by hip-hop artist Macklemore called Same Love. The song, which has gone viral with nearly fifty million views of the music video version, is about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Over the past few weeks a number of young people have brought up the song in conversation. Just yesterday a twenty-two year old relative of mine, asked me if I had ever heard the song. He raised the question in the context of a discussion we were having about same-sex marriage. He pointed out that it is not only a very catchy song and fun to listen to, but that it is confusing because the story it tells is that true love, God’s love, embraces same-sex marriage.

In fact, Macklemore ends the song by repeating words from 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind,” which is arguably the most famous passage on love in the entire Bible. In essence, what he is saying is, to love like Jesus loves, the love that is patient and kind, the love that is the opposite of “hate,” is a love that celebrates homosexual acts and fights for the legalization of same-sex marriage. That’s the argument.

It’s essentially the same argument, without explicit appeal to the New Testament, that Justice Anthony Kennedy presented in the decision of the majority of justices on the Supreme Court who struck down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage as being defined by one man and one woman. Justice Anton Scalia summarized the majority opinion this way: “In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated.”

Indeed, the truth about love is more complicated. From a Catholic point of view, there is no love without the truth. Love and truth always go together. In his homily during the canonization of Edith Stein, Pope John Paul II said that St. Teresa Benedicta, the “martyr of love,” taught us all that “love and truth have an intrinsic relationship,” and that “love and truth need each other.”

The truth love seeks is the good of the other. That is, to love someone means that I will their good. I want what is best for them. What is best for every person is what will lead to genuine human flourishing and this only happens when we “live the truth.” That is, when live the life we were made to live, when we recognize how God made us, and live in accord with his plan for our lives.

Pope John Paul continued: “St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”

This is why St. Paul, in the very passage Macklemore quotes, says that love “does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Corinthians 13:6). What Macklemore and so many others are demanding is that in the case of active homosexuality and same-sex marriage, in order to love, we must “rejoice in what is wrong.”

*Stay tuned for True Love – Part II which will focus on the Church’s Teaching and the ‘Dictatorship of Relativism*

Interesting Interview with Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Barron

Recently, Fr. Robert Barron visited Timothy Cardinal Dolan in New York City.  After celebrating Mass together, the two of them entertained some questions from the media.  The brief interview is worth watching because they both do an excellent job representing the orthodoxy of the Church while maintaining humor and good will.  Additionally, Cardinal Dolan expertly treads the fine line of challenging the media with honest yet loving answers.