Faith Over Fear

Ask any one of my friends – I’m a worrier. Maybe it’s a direct result of growing up with ever-changing Ohio weather and heartbreaking Cleveland sports that I tend to assume the worst in any given situation.

As a direct result of being a worrier, trust in God is always something I’m working on and something people (ex: the priests in my life) are always telling me to do.

Seriously, one recent Friday evening at the parish, I was lamenting a rainy weather forecast while inquiring about a backup plan for an outdoor First Communion group photo when both my pastor and my DRE told me, “Trust in the Lord, it won’t rain tomorrow morning.” And guess what? They were right. While it wasn’t exactly sunny, it did not rain on that beautiful, grace-filled morning.

Now, trusting in the Lord certainly applies in bigger situations than just a simple weather forecast (who can trust meteorologists anyways?), but since that one small instance, it’s been something particularly on my heart, in one way or another. Then I read this weekend’s Gospel passage and it all just hit me.

If we trust in the Lord, with Him working through us, we can do miraculous things. Peter calls out to Jesus who is walking on the water, Jesus tells him to come and so Peter walks on water too. It’s as simple as that.

One thing is key here, I believe – we must cry out to Jesus. Peter didn’t step out on the water on a whim, thinking he’d be able to walk over to Jesus. He called out to Jesus first and then trusted in Jesus’ answer, His command to “come.” And so Peter went – he succeeded in walking on water. I think we always forget about this part at the expense of what follows.

Peter’s trust in the Lord waned at the sight and strength of the fierce wind. That’s when he started sinking into the water, not because of the wind or the waves or the storm but because he stumbled in his trust. But what does Peter do when he’s in trouble? He cries out to the Lord for help and Jesus extends his hand to save him.

How many times do the storms in our lives overtake our life of faith and our trust in the Lord? My guess is far too many. Yet God is there in those dark moments, in the messiness and in the struggles. We can trust that He will be there and we can trust that He will answer our pleas, much like Jesus responded when Peter cried out to Him.

Try to live in the light of Jesus, not in the darkness of fear. And, yes, I’ll try to listen to my own advice too.

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Following graduation, she began volunteering in youth ministry at her home parish of Holy Family Church. Her first “big girl” job was in collegiate sports information where, after a busy two years in the profession on top of serving the youth, she took a leap of faith and followed the Lord’s call to full-time youth ministry at St. Peter Church. She still hopes to use her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.

The Book of Habakkuk, Today

The first thing I noticed about today’s First Reading was that I had no idea that Habakkuk was even a book in the Bible. The second and more important thing I noticed was how, upon a more reflective reading, it shook me to my core. The image I chose for today’s reading is a perfect portrayal of my reaction to today’s first reading.

It hit me in my soul.

Maybe it’s the Book of Habakkuk that’s got me feeling poetic, but the following words rang true in the same way echoing church bells make everyone pause for a moment.

LORD, you have appointed them for judgment,

O Rock, you have set them in place to punish!

Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence

while the wicked devour those more just than themselves?

(Habakkuk 1:12,13b)

Oof. These last few months have been so much turmoil and confusion on all fronts that it leaves one wondering why our rock, our Lord, seemingly stays silent.

However, this passage is not meant to be read alone and taken out of context. In fact, I went on to read the entire book of Habakkuk (it’s only three chapters) because Habakkuk’s laments are all about questioning God about why he does not stop evildoers. God then responds to Habakkuk with His own reasons, explanations, and a hopeful prophecy. One of these explanations is that while God may allow imperfect people and corrupt situations to occur, they exist to bloom goodness for His people.

What does this mean?

It means that God allows injustices because they can lead to change and something better.

It means that the bad will pass, good can come of it, and as the last lines of the Book of Habakkuk say, although there is bad in the world, “I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God” (Habakkuk 3:18).

~

If you’re interested in learning more about the Book of Habakkuk, watch this neat video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPMaRqGJPUU. It’s surprisingly relevant!

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Veronica Alvarado is a born and raised Texan currently living in Michigan. Since graduating from Texas A&M University, Veronica has published various articles in the Catholic Diocese of Austin’s official newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, and other local publications. She now works as the Content Specialist in Diocesan’s Web Department.

Follow Me

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (MT 16:24) This is the first line from today’s Gospel. It always catches my attention. This sentence reminds me that I need to get out of the way, no matter what my current situation may be, and I must follow Jesus. It is my choice to make freely in each and every moment of my day.

I didn’t say this is something that comes easily to me. A cartoon I saw earlier this week sums up my daily challenge beautifully. Jesus is pictured with several followers (Bibles in hand). He says to them: ‘The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.’ Wow, drop the mike!

Love is the answer! My cross must be looked at with eyes of Love! I must choose to carry on in my daily life through Jesus’ Way of Love.

At this point in life, my choices for the upcoming day are more easily made when I begin with prayer, scripture, or as my schedule now allows, morning Mass. I did not choose that as a youth or young adult. I typically made the choice to pray when in crisis or when reminded by a friend.

The Church honors today the love and choices of eight martyrs. Pope Saint Sixtus II (and his companions, all martyrs) chose the Love of Christ by defying the Emperor Valerian’s persecutions in the third century. Church services were forbidden, yet Pope Sixtus the Second held Mass in a cemetery chapel. The chapel was raided while the Pope was preaching. He was beheaded by soldiers along with four of his deacons. Three more deacons were executed later that day.

I am never sure how the next moment or day may unfold. I can, however, rely and count on the Lord, my God and Savior to be with me through each and every situation I find myself in.

As we begin this new day please pray with me the words of  Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands,
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen

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Beth is part of the customer care team at Diocesan. She brings a unique depth of experience to the group due to her time spent in education, parish ministries, sales and the service industry over the last 25 yrs. She is a practicing spiritual director as well as a Secular Franciscan (OFS). Beth is quick to offer a laugh, a prayer or smile to all she comes in contact with. Reach her here bprice@diocesan.com.

Lord, It Is Good That We Are Here

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. People often ask for signs in moments of despair or hopelessness. No greater sign can be given than the Transfiguration. In order to strengthen the Apostles-specifically Peter, James, and John-and give the three of them a glimpse of His divinity, a sign of hope for what they believe in. Peter’s response to Jesus’ transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah is, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

Lord, it is good that we are here. 

What a powerful statement! It is good that we are here. Not only in His glory, but at the foot of His Cross, as John was. The Transfiguration is a sign of what Christ’s suffering will bring about for the world: glory! However, that glory was not attained without suffering. Jesus endured the Passion to bring about our redemption. When we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ, we are filled with the hope of the glory of the Resurrection. That hope is what Jesus gives to us in the Transfiguration. He gives us the hope that will get us through whatever present suffering we might be experiencing and the hope that guides our faith.

May we remember that it is good that we are “here”…wherever “here” is. Be it with our families, with our friends, at work, at the grocery store. It is good that we are here and that we know the Glory of God. When “here” is a place of despair, loneliness, or suffering, may we remember the Transfigured Lord and pray, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

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Dakota currently lives in Denver, CO and teaches English Language Development and Spanish to high schoolers. She is married to the love of her life, Ralph. In her spare time, she reads, goes to breweries, and watches baseball. Dakota’s favorite saints are St. John Paul II (how could it not be?) and St. José Luis Sánchez del Río. She is passionate about her faith and considers herself blessed at any opportunity to share that faith with others. Check out more of her writing at https://dakotaleonard16.blogspot.com.

Spiritual Desert

If I can be completely honest I am facing a great time of spiritual dryness in my life. I have so many blessings and I know God is present in my life, and He always will be, but I feel so distant from Him. How do I draw closer to Him in these times of feeling down and out, of feeling like I don’t know my place or just a lack of inspiration to draw closer to Him?

I know we have all experienced times like these, including the saints. Mother Teresa is one of the saints infamously known for not feeling God’s presence for 50 years. She devoutly served Him and trusted His presence even though she experienced this dryness for decades.  I cannot imagine how much of a struggle this must have been for her, trying to serve individuals with great needs in Calcutta within the spiritual desert she found her soul in. Ultimately she knew God was with her and she had one key source that continued to keep her going – Jesus in the Eucharist.

Mother Teresa made it a priority to ensure that she and her sisters had time before Jesus in the Eucharist every single day.  The source and summit of our faith was the center of her ministry and provided her with the grace she needed to keep going, loving God and loving others with the love of Christ. The graces received from the Eucharist are beyond our human understanding.

At the end of the day, we can all learn from Mother Teresa. We must draw our strength from the Eucharist. Jesus is there waiting for us. Whether we visit Him in person or watch a live stream (I have one in Poland that I love to watch on Youtube) Jesus is with us and we are with Him. During these times of uncertainty, He wants to remain hopeful in Him, no matter where we are at on our spiritual journey. I feel as though I write often on struggle, anxiety, and spiritual dryness but I hope that this honest post will bring you hope. Know that you are not alone in the desert, Christ remains with us always (no matter if we feel distant from Him – He never leaves our side), and go forward with courage on the mission God has for you. Draw close to Him in the Eucharist, whether online or in-person and trust Him to be with you as you find your Calcutta.

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Nathalie Shultz is a joyful convert to the Catholic faith and a competitive swimmer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  She loves to share her passion for Catholicism with others, including her conversion story and how God continues to work miracles in her life through her OCD. She is the Director of Religious Education for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative of parishes. Nathalie is married to her best friend, Tommy Shultz. Her favorite saints include St. Peter the Apostle, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.  She is also a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. If you have any questions for Nathalie, or just want her to pray for you, you can email her at rodzinkaministry@gmail.com

Parish Priests: Saints or Sinners?

Today is the memorial of Saint John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. We frequently discuss our pastors and their associates, especially when it comes to difficult or controversial decisions that they make. Given my role working for a parish with four priests and four deacons, I think that it might be good to discuss parish priests from the inside.

Depending on your background as a faithful Catholic, you might have one of two attitudes towards parish priests. You may see them as wonderful men who can practically do no wrong, entrusted with sacred faculties to act in the person of Christ. The pastor is both leader and servant and is able to manage all things through the strength of the God who has empowered him to exercise ministry. With a little prayer, he can handle any challenge of parish life. At times, it seems that he can do no wrong.

On the other hand, you may see priests as fragile, flawed men whom God has unfathomably graced with power beyond their merits. They can do amazing things, but at the bottom, they are human and broken like the rest of us. They have divine assistance, but they desperately need our help. At times, it seems like they are no better than the average person.

Each of these conceptions has a grain of truth to it, as we can see from the special readings for Saint John Vianney. On the one hand, priests are given “authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Matt 10:1). They are sent as God’s messengers to admonish his people, spread the good news, and proclaim liberty to the captives. Parish priests are given abundant grace to overcome every situation, priming them for holiness.

On the other hand, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37). Priests may have power, but they can be outnumbered. They cannot always bear the weight of their duties. The first reading from Ezekiel speaks of a priest’s immense responsibility for those who turn away from God: “I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him” (Ezek 3:20). Priests have awesome power, but they also have a grave responsibility. Sometimes it is too much for them to handle gracefully.

An accurate perspective on parish priests needs to take account of both of these attitudes. Yes, priests are given immense power, authority, and grace. They have been privileged for holiness. Yes, priests are flawed, fragile human beings with responsibilities too great for man to bear. They are much like the rest of us.

As a liturgist working under an eight-man clergy team, I see both sides of this reality routinely. There have been many times in which a priest is being casual and lighthearted one moment and stoic the next. When discussing logistics or community life, jokes are frequent. When preaching from the ambo or explaining the Sacraments, the tone becomes loftier and more serious. Some of the priests I would consider the most simple and unintelligent have given the most profound homilies. Behind the unassuming personality and need for assistance lies an icon screen in an office, or a frequent habit of Adoration. The priests with whom I work are fragile and human, but they are blessed with grace and authority. In the less serious moments, the fragility is front and center. In the context of priestly duties, the sanctity is showcased.

Priests are men like the rest of us, struggling to maintain a life of prayer and sacrifice. Each of them has his own quirks and imperfections, and each is uniquely challenged by different aspects of parish life. Yet, while parish priests are human, they have been changed by God in their very being. They are priests after the order of Melchizedek, and nothing can take that character away from them. Their souls have been marked.

It is important to remember these things about our parish priests. When a complete picture of the priesthood informs our actions, we begin to treat these men differently. Knowing the authority and power of the priest, we address him as “father” and make every effort to avoid insulting the Lord whom he represents. Knowing the humanity and fragility of the priest, we are unafraid to converse with him as a companion on the road to heaven. We recognize that at times he will need our help and that at all times he needs our prayers.

With these things in mind, let us give thanks for our parish priests: human, yet acting in the person of the divine. Saint John Vianney, pray for our parish priests.

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David is the Associate Director of Liturgy for a group of parishes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he is not spending time with his wife and infant daughter, he is writing on philosophy and theology for various online publications. You can find some of these in Crisis Magazine and the Imaginative Conservative, and you can contact him at ddashiellwork@gmail.com.

Trust in the Power of Christ

This is my all-time favorite passage in scripture. Firstly, we see Jesus go off by himself to pray. As if preparing for the opening night of a play or an amazing feat of strength, Jesus goes off by himself to focus on the miracle he is about to perform, and more importantly, the message he is going to send.

Secondly, you can almost feel the fear in the hearts of the disciples. The boat being tossed by the waves, their minds knowing from their trade how quickly the sea can turn from a friend to a foe. A single second is the difference between life and death. Jesus allows them to stay in the boat until they mistake him for a ghost and he immediately shows to them who he is. The disciples realize how much they need the Lord, and immediately he shows himself to them.

Thirdly, he shows them how they can trust. Trust in the power and might of God. Trust in his promises. Trust in his love. Trust in his mercy. So Jesus prays, helps the disciples see their need for God, and then fulfills this need through his miracle of walking on the water and calming the storm.

The question is how do we respond? The disciples responded in three ways. There were those who remained scared and stayed in the boat. Fear overcame them and they did not trust. There was Peter who walked out on the water towards Jesus. His eyes fully fixed on Christ and his promises. And then finally there is Peter as he sinks, getting distracted by the waves that crashed about around him and losing focus on the Lord.

Which one are we? Are we afraid? Are we walking and trusting? Or are we starting to sink? The answer to wherever we are at right now in our lives is what Jesus taught us. Pray, realize our need for God, and then allow the Lord to perform wondrous miracles in our lives. May we be honest with ourselves about where we are and strive to trust, even when the waves crash. God Bless!

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Tommy Shultz is Director of Evangelization for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative and the founder of Rodzinka Ministries. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

He Answers All Our Needs

When was the last time you felt like you were on your own? Where it felt as though it was all up to you? Perhaps you felt discouraged or alone facing a certain challenge. I for one have a habit of worrying that makes trusting God a constant choice I have to choose again and again. I have to give up the reins and remember that He answers all my needs.

This is the beauty of the Scripture readings today. We are reminded that Jesus takes care of our every need and we face absolutely nothing alone. In the First Reading, we hear God’s invitation to those who are thirsty to come to the water and drink without cost. He asks us, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” For He alone satisfies our heart’s desires and offers it to us without cost. We don’t need to do anything to deserve this gift. He freely gives it to us.

The Responsorial Psalm reiterates the truth that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” In the Second Reading, we are asked “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” As we read on, we find that nothing can separate us because “we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us”. We are never alone, He is on our side and always with us. We can do all things through Him. Our Gospel Reading ties all these readings together with Jesus’ miracle of the five loaves and two fish, feeding five thousand people. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go into town and buy their own meals, but Jesus had other plans. He provided for the needs of those before Him, He didn’t let a single one of them go without eating. “They all ate and were satisfied.”

Let us remember in times we feel alone or struggle to trust, that He invites us to come and drink. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, He is always on our side. Let us remember that “The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs.” When we go to Him and open our hearts to His love, we will be like the crowd that day, satisfied.

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Briana is the Pastoral Minister at St. Mark Church in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Catechetics from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH, and is excited to use these skills to serve the Church.

Peer Pressure

In today’s Gospel, we hear about one of the first documented and most intense cases of peer pressure. Because of a fear of the crowd, Herod murders John the Baptist. Now it may seem like this is an extreme example and we might think, nobody would ever do that in our time, or how could it have gone that far?

But let’s take a moment and bring this story into our particular experiences. Sometimes it can help when we read the bible to put ourselves into the situation. Usually, this works best if we put ourselves as one of the people Jesus is loving or teaching, or it’s at least easier that way. But I am going to challenge us to put ourselves in the point of view of Herod.

When was the last time we let our beliefs crumble because of a certain fear or embarrassment? Think about this last time and ask the question, is that something you ever would have done years ago? What I have noticed in my own life is if I start to slowly give in to peer pressure or remain silent when I should speak up, it starts slow and eventually I lose sight of who I was years ago and the things I promised I would never budge on.

Maybe we wouldn’t murder someone out of fear, but what have we done recently because it was just easier to give in than to stand up for the truth? This is an important and difficult question. As we ask it, let’s keep Jesus close. He will help us remember what the truth is and how we can continue to live from it to the best of our ability with his grace and mercy. God Bless and happy thinking and praying.

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Tommy Shultz is Director of Evangelization for the North Allegan Catholic Collaborative and the founder of Rodzinka Ministries. In these roles, he is committed to bringing all those he meets into a deeper relationship with Christ. Tommy has a heart and a flair for inspiring people to live their faith every day. He has worked in various youth ministry, adult ministry, and diocesan roles. He has been a featured speaker at retreats and events across the country. His mission and drive have been especially inspired by St. John Paul II’s teachings. Tommy is blessed to be able to learn from the numerous parishes he visits and pass that experience on in his presentations. With a degree in Theology from Franciscan University, Tommy hopes to use his knowledge to help all people understand the beauty of The Faith.

The Lot Marked Out For Me Is My Delight

The lot marked out for me is my delight. This was a passage from Psalm 16 that was written on a piece of paper given to me in a meeting around the year 1996.

For the past almost twenty-five years, this simple verse of scripture has kept me wondering about the mystery of life, the wonder of choosing one’s stance toward life’s events that can bring both joy and pain.

How can we find delight in situations that have been “marked out for us”?

How can we find our joy in forsaking our own way in order to delight in what we end up with in the seemingly random events that direct the outcome of who we are and what we have in life?

In other words, how can we be happy being the clay, when our frightened grasping selves would be happier, we presume, if we were ourselves were the potter?

The image of the potter and the potter’s wheel appears through scripture, an apt and beautiful expression of God’s faithful, tender, loving action in our lives.

When Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, what did he see? The ancient potter would scrape the clay from the earth, and throwing it on the ground would trample on it. He would soften the brittle and resistant clay with water and knead it until it softened into a paste. This kneaded clay would be slapped firmly onto the center of his potter’s wheel, which was a flat disk mounted on a rod. By holding the clay as the wheel turned and manipulating it with his fingers and palms, the potter would transform the lump of clay into a vessel, any vessel of his choosing.

We are the clay, not the pot but the clay. In process. Being formed, shaped, reformed,  transformed.

If we are the clay under the expert work of the divine Potter, we can be sure that he intends to do something with us and in us. We are beautiful to him. We have a purpose. We have a meaning in life that brings him joy. We are a part of his great plan.

Life’s sorrows and burdens are the trampling that brings forth the tears that soften the clay. Even the moments of pain are part of the process of becoming.

The clay has no idea what the Potter is trying to create. It yields itself completely to the expert and loving kneading of the One who envisions for it the fullness of life.

After the clay has been pushed and prodded and pulled and shaped on the potter’s wheel, it was baked in a kiln, a special furnace that might easily reach 2700°F. Different types of pots require different types of heat. The divine Potter, like any good potter, doesn’t arbitrarily submit the clay pot to a degree of heat that is beyond the endurance of the vessel. No vessel receives more heat than it needs. The most beautiful clay pots require the greatest heat. The most beautiful souls are often those who have suffered the most and have become kind, gentle, and courageously loving in the process.

The divine Potter never gives up on the clay. He is endlessly inventive and creative.

When I think of how solicitously the divine Potter has bent over me as he transforms my life into the beautiful life he has had in mind for me from all eternity, I can absolutely cry out, “The lot marked out for me is my delight.”

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Kathryn James Hermes, FSP, is the author of the newly released title: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments, by Pauline Books and Media. An author and spiritual mentor, she offers spiritual accompaniment for the contemporary Christian’s journey towards spiritual growth and inner healing. She is the director of My Sisters, where people can find spiritual accompaniment from the Daughters of St. Paul on their journey.

Website: www.touchingthesunrise.com

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