You Are Not the Judge

We are so quick to judge. Sometimes we are a harsh judge of ourselves but, more often than not, our gaze is turned outward as we choose to judge others instead. We try to offer up explanations as to why they (whoever they are) aren’t good enough or successful enough or worthy enough – using ourselves as the measuring stick. We can all admit instances where we’ve done this in the past.

For example, I used to serve as a room host at Franciscan so that prospective students could spend a night in my dorm room and get a taste of residence hall life. When I got my first-ever room-hosting assignment, you better believe that I wanted to know who this girl was so I looked her up on Facebook. What I found (a post that supported beliefs that contradict the Catholic faith) shaped my whole view of this student’s impending visit and I began to dread her arrival and also anticipate her departure from campus. I clearly thought that I was better than her since I upheld Catholic teaching and I also struggled to see how she would fit in on this holy hill if she did not embrace this particular teaching. That weekend ended up being one of the most notably fun weekends of the entire school year and, after this girl left, I broke down in tears. You see, I recognized the harm that was done in having judged someone. This moment has since stuck with me and will continue to be remembered for the rest of my life.

I share that example because of the “after effect,” that sorrow and remorse I felt in my heart for realizing that I was wrong in having judged that girl. Not to say that I am perfect – I am still human and, therefore, I still struggle with the desire to judge others – but this experience has helped me to stop and think about the consequences of my thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, though, I think that many people have never experienced the “after effects” of their judgments and, overall, I believe this tendency of ours to judge has led to a lot of trouble in our current culture. Society has become conditioned to judge based on skin color, tone of voice, gender, and many other things when it is not our place to judge anyone, ever, at all. We still need to learn to see each other as made in God’s image and likeness, to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, first and foremost.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to look inwardly, to not see the splinter in another’s eye but to actually (finally) notice the wooden beam sticking out of our own eye. In my case, the splinter was this girl’s stance on a particular Church teaching but the wooden beam in my eye is how I looked at her because of that teaching and the judgments I formed in my own heart. It may be a challenge but I would encourage you to start identifying the wooden beams in your life and work hard to remove them. True change cannot happen without interior work, a conversion of our own heart.

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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 Greatest of These is Love

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

In hearing the conclusion of today’s Gospel, I cannot help but think about the events taking place in our country over the past couple of weeks. Between the horrific killing of George Floyd and those protests that devolved into violence, it appears that we have forgotten the greatest commandment to “love one another; even as I have loved you.”

If we truly loved one another as Christ has loved us, we would see each human being as our brother or sister in Christ, regardless of race, ethnicity, social status, and the many other labels that society tries to slap on us. If we truly loved one another as Christ has loved us, we would recognize the inviolable human dignity that each person has, being made in the image and likeness of God.

But, what happens when we fail to love? When we fail to see every person as a brother or sister in Christ? When we fail to see their dignity as a human person? When we fail to follow the greatest commandment? Well, it is then that we struggle to follow even the least of the commandments that Jesus has given to us. That’s when sin becomes as prevalent as it is in the world today, when it takes root in our hearts when we struggle to follow Jesus’ commands.

Paragraphs 1868-1869 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church help us to see the connection between personal sin and social structures of sin. “Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

-By participating directly and voluntarily in them;
-By ordering, advising, praising or approving them;
-By not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
-By protecting evil-doers.

Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sin gives rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”

What is there to do, then? How can we uproot the sin in our own hearts to help bring about change in our lives and in our society? We must pray for the conversion of hearts – our own hearts and the hearts of others. We must look interiorly, identifying those areas of our own life where we struggle with sin and put in the conscious effort to fix those areas. But, most of all, we must love. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, love conquered sin and death. Now, when we love, we will conquer hate as well.

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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.

To Trust, To Pray

In preparing for this blog post, I was struck by many things in both the first reading and the Gospel – so much so that I could probably write two different blogs for today – but ultimately felt drawn to comment on the Gospel, “the Prayer of Jesus.”

The entire 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, from which today’s Gospel is taken, is an intercessory prayer spoken by Jesus directly to the Father. Although not speaking to the disciples, He is interceding for them and for those disciples still to come (you and me).

When Jesus prays, something big is about to happen. In Matthew 14:23, Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray, and then what follows? He walks on water. In Luke 6:12, He again goes up a mountain again to pray overnight, and, when day breaks, He chooses His 12 apostles. In the same spirit, Jesus offers this prayer in today’s Gospel and then is arrested and on His way to the cross. When Jesus prays, something big is about to happen.

Why don’t we have that same faith, that same confidence, when it comes to our prayer? I’m not talking about saying the Our Father and then, boom, being able to walk on water but, rather, the act of bringing Him our needs and then trusting that something big will happen in our own lives. This trust is three-fold, I believe.

1. We have to trust that God truly cares about us and loves us. The misconception is that if God doesn’t love us or if He is a vengeful and vindictive God who is hurt by the humanity that betrayed Him, then He won’t even listen to our prayers. Accepting the truth of God’s unending love and mercy deep in our own hearts is key to being able to surrender our wishes, desires, and intentions to Him in prayer.

2. We have to trust in the power of our prayer. Our prayer is powerful because our God is powerful. Nothing is ever too big to ask and God never ignores the smallest of our requests either. All we have to do is bring our needs before Him and He will take care of the rest.

3. We have to trust that our prayers will be heard and answered. What is the point of praying if we believe either that God doesn’t hear us or that He won’t answer our prayers? Or maybe we are afraid of God’s answer not being the answer that we want? In that case…

4. (Bonus one) We have to trust that God’s plan is better than our own, that He will always work for our good. God will answer our prayers in His way. Sometimes His way lines up with our way but that is not often the case. There is always good in His answer because He loves us and desires our good.

Looking at this “Prayer of Jesus,” Jesus knows and trusts His Father’s love, trusts in the power of prayer, trusts that the Father heard what He asked and will answer and always, always trusts in the Father’s plan. Here in Jesus, we have a beautiful model for our own prayer. May we continue to trust in the Lord, placing our needs before Him.

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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.

For Love, For Others

Remain in my love. That’s all we can do (or try to do) right now, right?

At the time of writing and time of publication, we are coming up now on two months of quarantine. That’s two months of working from home, two months of online distance learning for our children, and two months of not being able to see our family and friends, among other things.

Looking at it in other words, that’s two months of solitude, pain, and heartache – let alone two months without the sacraments. Personal prayer feels like the least we can do – not the most we can do – during this time, but even that is a struggle. Remaining in God’s love feels like a chore, but, hey, in this crisis, that’s about all we can try to do.

There needs to be a shift in thinking, though. Remaining in God’s love is not the only thing that we can do but, rather, it’s everything that we GET to do through the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us of the great privilege and joy we get to have in following His commandments, particularly His commandment to “love one another.”

Jesus simply lays it out at first, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,” and uses Himself as an example – that He has kept the Father’s commandments and so remains in His love. Jesus tells us about these commandments, what they are so that we can share in His joy when we choose to follow them (and Him) in freedom.

But then Jesus gets specific: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” If the way that Jesus loved us was to get up on the cross and die for our sins so that we can live forever in love with Him and the Father in heaven, how can we possibly love as Jesus loves? Seems impossible, right?

Jesus’ love was self-sacrificial and still is. Meanwhile, I believe that the way we’ve loved the best during this time of quarantine is through a self-sacrificial lens. We’ve stayed in our houses to protect the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and the frontline healthcare workers (to name a few) – showing them love as well as support through self-sacrifice. In the same spirit, that’s why we haven’t visited our family and friends as we show them love, by protecting them and their health by not putting them at risk. Parents have been self-sacrificing out of love for their children by having to play an integral role in their education and so much more.

Having to abstain from the Eucharist, though, is a self-sacrifice as well, one that ultimately is increasing our love and longing for the Lord, which will have ramifications for the rest of our lives.

As we (hopefully) come to the close of this time of quarantine, let us remember the call to love one another as Christ has loved us so that we may remain in His love both now and forever.

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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.

Focus on the Eternal

I am grieving.

Eight days ago, our governor extended online distance learning for the rest of the school year, so I am grieving for all of my teens who were clinging on to the hope that they would return to school this year. Yesterday, my parish was supposed to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, so I am grieving for my 8th graders who have worked so hard to prepare for the sacrament and had yet another event in their 8th-grade year canceled or postponed. Today, I was supposed to be on a flight to visit one of my dear college friends, so I am grieving my lost vacation.

I am grieving bigger losses, too – the loss of human contact, like simply being able to hug my family and friends. I am grieving in-person, face-to-face connection, which has been relegated to screens for the time being. And I am still grieving the loss of my grandmother, who passed away 38 long days ago in the midst of this pandemic.

It is good, natural even, to grieve these things. But, you see, the things that I am grieving are all temporal. They’re all of this crazy, twisted world we’re living in right now. Yes, we are of this world, but we were made for something more, something deeper.

Jesus gives us this reminder in today’s Gospel. The crowd asks Jesus for a sign, reminding Him their ancestors wandering in the desert were given manna to eat. Jesus proceeds to explain the sign, saying that it was the Father who provided the bread from heaven, not Moses, but the crowd just continues to focus on the physical aspect of food. They think that Jesus will make it rain with sourdough (too soon?), and then they will physically live forever.

The crowd couldn’t move past the temporal that they were thinking about to the eternal that Jesus was talking about. With the food that He will give, the Bread of Life, we will always be satisfied. When we consume that spiritual food that is the Eucharist, we become united with Jesus – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in anticipation of the union that we will enjoy with the Father in heaven one day.

We were made for this union. We were created by a God who placed deeper desires on our hearts than being able to attend school or to hug my parents. We long for Him and the happiness that only He can provide.

Instead of grieving a postponed Confirmation, I will pray for a deeper longing for the Holy Spirit in the candidates’ hearts. Instead of grieving my lost beach vacation, I will seek rest in the Lord, who desires to flood my heart and my soul with peace and comfort. And I will remind myself that my grandma now enjoys the hope of the Resurrection and that we will reunite in heaven again someday instead of focusing too much on my grief.

In light of today’s Gospel, I would encourage you all to identify what you have lost and are grieving due to this COVID-19 crisis. Ask the Lord to help you put those things in perspective, to see the eternal past the temporal, and remember that He gives us the greatest, most perfect things that our hearts desire and fills those things Himself.

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of 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 uses her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on old episodes of the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.

Christ Overcame

Holy Saturday. A day filled with so much anticipation. In just a mere few hours, Easter Vigils will begin all across the country. The waiting is over. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen; let us rejoice … although our celebrations will be more muted this year, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

There are those out there who assume that, because there is no public celebration of the Mass, that Easter just won’t happen this year. Others may think that Easter is less significant this year, less important, less meaningful. Still, others will wonder if their churches will “push back” the celebration of Easter to the first available Sunday that parishioners are welcome through the doors.

Easter isn’t canceled. Just because we can’t physically gather in our Church buildings and receive the Body of Christ – the same Body of Christ that hung on the cross and the same Body of Christ that rose from the dead – doesn’t mean that this great celebration won’t take place. In fact, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered on Easter might be more profound this year. Yes, priests offer up the sacrifice on our behalf at every single Mass but, this year, being the sole persons able to participate in (let alone offer up) the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that celebrates the reward of that very same sacrifice of Jesus is just … kind of mind-blowing. The priests will celebrate the Mass on our behalf, just like they’ve been doing for the past, “I don’t know how many” weeks. And they will continue to celebrate Mass on our behalf for the weeks to come.

Easter isn’t any less meaningful this year. Jesus still rose from the dead. Jesus still saved us from the consequences of sin and death, reconciled us with God the Father, and gave us the promise of eternal life. All of these things and more are still important and still present to us, even in the midst of chaos.

And, unfortunately, Easter won’t (and can’t) be pushed back. Easter Sunday is an immovable feast day, which can’t just be celebrated at a later time. Hopefully, we will still be in the midst of the Easter season when our local dioceses will resume public celebration of Masses. You may see some aspects of Easter incorporated in your church whenever that moment comes. Maybe there will be a Renewal of Baptismal Promises with a sprinkling rite during Masses like there would have been on Easter Sunday. Maybe all of the Easter lilies and other flowers will linger on the altar a little longer than normal.

I can assure you, though, that whenever the moment is – the church will be abuzz with unbridled Easter joy. That’s what we have to hold on to during this crisis. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like we have hope in the Resurrection, we will have our Easter morning.

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Erin is a Cleveland native and graduate of 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 uses her communication arts degree as a freelance writer and statistician, though. You can catch her on old episodes of the Clarence & Peter Podcast on YouTube as well as follow her on Twitter @erinmadden2016.

Desert Times

Uncertainty. That seems to be the only constant nowadays. Times are uncertain and have been for a little while now. What I write today, Friday, March 27, will not be the same on the day this blog post is published, Tuesday, March 31. What is going on in my home state of Ohio is not the same for readers from (insert state name here). But, yet, we all share similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings about this COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are working from home. Our children are doing online distance-learning. Our cupboards are stocked with essentials, and grocery store shelves are bare. We are worried about our own health and the health of those we love. We can list the COVID-19 vs. common cold vs. flu symptoms. Our eyes have been glued to our screens anxiously waiting for the latest information, whether it be from social media, news media, or straight from our governors’ mouths.

I see similarities in these times and these feelings to today’s first reading from the Book of Numbers. The children of Israel, their patience, being worn out by the journey compares to us being sick of “social distancing” and quarantine. There is complaining. We see complaining all over our social media feeds and probably hear it enough with our own ears in between the four walls of our houses. Lacking food or water compares to the empty shelves we see when we go shopping, looking for the bare necessities to get us through this time. COVID-19 could be the seraph serpents that are biting the people, many of whom died. And, yes, of course, we have been praying that this virus comes to an end, much like the Israelites prayed that the Lord take the serpents away from them.

While we are all sharing similar experiences, readers, one thing we also share, another link we have in common, is our faith. This faith may be a source of comfort to you during this time, or it might also be struggling in the face of darkness, like everything else in the world. It may be easy to see Churches locked and public celebration of Mass suspended as a sign of despair and of hopelessness – that God has abandoned His people in the midst of crisis. Brothers and sisters, we are in the midst of Lent. Yes, liturgically and in the sense of dates and the calendar, but also literally.

We are in the desert, side-by-side with the Lord. We hunger and thirst for an end to this terrible illness, for the opportunity to hug our family and friends and, most especially, for the Eucharist. And we can take a small bit of comfort in knowing that Christ hungers and thirsts for these things right alongside us. The Lord does not want suffering, sickness, and death. He does not want to be torn apart from those that He loves, and He wants to be present with us and to us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. For all these reasons and more, not wanting to spend life without us, God sent His only Son into the world to become human and redeem humanity through suffering and death. This is what we prepare our hearts for during Lent. This is what we are preparing our hearts for in this time of pandemic-induced crisis. Our greatest desire is for certainty, for hope, for joy, and for light. We desire the Easter Resurrection that is to come, and we will rejoice again at the Table of the Lord. We will rejoice in social gatherings and groups of our families and friends.

For those who are feeling distanced from the Church – as someone who works for a local parish, let me be the first to tell you – the Church is adapting. The Church is overcoming. The Church is finding new ways to reach its flock. Many individual parishes have started recording or streaming Masses for their faith. And if your parish hasn’t gotten there yet, I can guarantee you that they are working on it. They are desperate to meet you where you are at – which is at home, “social distancing” and under quarantine. Other parishes have already reached steps even beyond that, with Eucharistic holy hours, Bible studies and discipleship all taking place in the digital realm. The Pope has brought the worldwide community of the faithful together at appointed times for prayer – the rosary, the Our Father, the Urbi et Orbi blessing, and probably more to come – for the eradication of this virus and healing for those affected by it.

The Church will be there, waiting for you when we are able to return. We just need to be patient until we can get to that “Easter morning.” May we return with much rejoicing, with a heart that has been sufficiently prepared for the moment and with great faith in the hope of Jesus Christ.

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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.

Jesus and Joseph

Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But what law are we talking about? And what does that have to do with Lent and Easter?

Going all the way back to the Old Testament, Moses went up Mount Sinai and received the 10 Commandments. From the very beginning, God was preparing His chosen people for the coming of Christ. You see, the Old Law, the 10 Commandments, tell us what we are to do but we still struggle in following this law due to our fallen human nature.

Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. The Law of the Gospel, the New Law of Jesus Christ, perfects the Old Law. The Old Law has been transformed through Jesus’ teachings but, most especially, through His Passion, Death and Resurrection when He sends us the Holy Spirit, which gives us the strength to live the law in love and out of love.

That’s not all the Passion does for us, though. Most importantly, Jesus reconciles us with God the Father and we receive the promise of new life in eternity DESPITE the consequences of original sin, which brought sin and death into the world. His death brings about new life, which permeates the hope and joy of the springtime and Easter season.

Okay, enough with the background information. In today’s first reading, I saw striking similarities between Joseph and Jesus, ones that I had never really seen before despite being familiar with the Old Testament story of Joseph (Yes, thanks to the movie and the Broadway play). Similarities that make you stop and think.

Israel sent Joseph out to his brothers, who were tending their father’s flocks, much like God the Father sent Jesus, His Beloved Son, into the world to reconcile us to Himself. Are we, the Church, the people of God, not considered Christ’s brothers and sisters?

Upon catching sight of Joseph, his brothers plotted to kill him. Were there not many who sought the Lord’s life between the scribes and the Pharisees? How many times do we read in the Gospels that those two groups wanted Jesus arrested and killed? More times than I can count.

Joseph was stripped of his tunic while Jesus was stripped of his garments before His crucifixion. Joseph was sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver while Judas sold out Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver.

Despite all of these small similarities, there is one big difference being that Joseph was only sold into slavery and not actually killed while Jesus suffered death on the cross for our sake. There was no other way to pay the price for our sins.

There are many ways we can be drawn into preparation for Easter, sometimes in ways we might not even recognize. Continue to prepare your heart for the Lord’s coming by turning away from sin and turning toward God.

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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.

Conversion Moment

What even is the whole point of Lent? Why do we take 40 days to prepare for Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter? Why do we embrace penance and suffering during this season? As I prepared my high school youth a few weeks ago for this new liturgical season, these are questions I sought to answer – at least, with more than just the pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

After researching, reading and spending time in prayer, I was surprised by the answers myself. One answer that I felt fairly confident about comes from paragraph 540 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reads, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” Jesus himself spent 40 days in the desert, fasting and enduring multiple temptations from Satan, so it only makes sense that we would enter into that mystery ourselves.

Then, the words of Ash Wednesday struck me: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Here is where the true challenge of Lent lies – why we choose to give something up for 40 days, why we seek out additional prayer opportunities and why we give alms. It’s all about conversion – conversion toward God and conversion toward others.

Conversion runs deep in today’s readings. In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear about what happens when one removes “oppression, false accusation and malicious speech” but also does good works of feeding the hungry and comforting the afflicted. Much is given to these people – the Lord will guide them and refresh them and more. I see quite a parallel to Easter here, where the joyous light of the Resurrection follows our time of conversion during Lent. We also see a reminder about keeping holy the Sabbath, which directly correlates to the conversion of God through prayer during Lent. When we honor the Lord through the Sabbath, through the celebration of Mass on Sunday, we delight in the Lord and He delights in us.

The tax collector Levi experienced a conversion himself in the Gospel reading. It began with a simple invitation from the Lord, “‘Follow me.’” The wealthy tax collector left everything behind to follow Jesus, which, of course, caused controversy among the scribes and Pharisees. When questioned why He spent so much time with tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus spoke of their great need for a Savior. “I have not called the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Lent has just started, brothers and sisters. Let us truly embrace this time of conversion and repentance as we turn away from sin and turn toward God.

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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.

A Hard Take on Discipleship

When I interviewed for my current youth ministry job, my now-coworkers asked me, “So what do you know about St. Peter Church?” Thanking the Lord I had spent time looking at the parish website the night before my interview, I confidently replied that the purpose of St. Peter Church is to make missionary disciples.

Mic drop, crushed it … or so I thought. Until they asked me something along the lines of “So how would you make missionary disciples out of the teens?” Although I don’t remember my answer in full, I do remember stating that we needed to start with the question, “What is a disciple and what does it take to be one?”

You see, we are all called to be disciples – everyone, more than just the parishioners of St. Peter Church. And we learn a lot about what it takes to be a disciple in today’s Gospel reading. Verses 34-38 present many short teachings on the conditions of discipleship, with verses 34 and 35 perhaps being the most well known: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

In these verses, Jesus presents a challenge to his current disciples and all those disciples still to come. Discipleship involves a choice and He lays it all on the line, not holding anything back about what it takes to be a disciple. A true, authentic disciple will totally commit himself or herself to the task at hand, all the way to the point of suffering or death. As a result, a disciple who is loyal to Christ will have fullness of life, even despite earthly suffering and death.

Jesus takes it a step further in verse 36 and puts the conditions of discipleship in monetary terms, such as “profit,” “forfeit” and “exchange.” Here, He is asking, “What is worth more, your riches or your soul?” Today’s society places such an emphasis on monetary gain at the expense of almost everything else while Jesus reminds everyone of the danger of wealth.

Meanwhile, the final verse serves as a stern reminder to uphold the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Anyone who is afraid to speak the truth or dilutes it in any way will be ashamed when he or she comes before the Lord.

How do we stack up? By these conditions, how does our discipleship look? Do we need to take a hard look at ourselves and make some difficult changes? May we look to this Gospel for the right direction.

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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.

Disciples Making Disciples

How often do we forget our call, our vocation, as Catholic Christians? We might get hung up on the word “vocation,” thinking that, “I’m living out my marriage/priesthood/religious life/single life, isn’t that enough?” No, it’s not enough. In fact, there’s so much more.

We all share a singular, universal mission: to go and make disciples of all nations. Today, on the Memorial of St. Paul Miki and his companions, we receive the very-needed reminder of our shared Baptismal call as we celebrate and honor one of the saints that best embraced this mission.

St. Paul Miki lived during a time of Christian persecution in Japan. A Jesuit known for his style of preaching, he was able to convert a great number of hearts to Catholicism. Meanwhile, the Japanese rulers became fearful of the growing influence of Catholicism and questioned their intentions, so beginning the widespread persecution. Paul Miki was eventually arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for his “crimes.” Even hanging on a cross, he spent his final minutes preaching to those present for his execution. Once the time of persecution was over, missionaries arrived back in Japan during the late 1800s to find that Christians had hidden and preserved their faith. At the price of his life and knowing exactly his fate, St. Paul Miki truly embraced his Baptismal call as he made disciples all across Japan.

Thankfully, we here in the United States aren’t experiencing persecution like that seen in Japan during St. Paul Miki’s time, but that doesn’t mean our task of making disciples is any less difficult. We face different challenges, like those wanting and willing to discredit the Church for the sex abuse crisis, like the culture of death evident in abortion and like the suppression of all that is good and true in the media, especially when it comes to Christian values. I argue that this is when we need to be making disciples the most. And we may not be risking our lives but rather our reputation and wellbeing. How far are you willing to go to embrace the call to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”?

May we look to St. Paul Miki and his courage as we strive to live out our Baptismal call.

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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.

Listen, Learn, Repent

When I sit down to write a blog post, my first thought is, “What can we learn from these readings? What can we take to heart and to prayer?” Upon first glance, I thought today’s first reading was more of an entertaining story with little to no takeaway while the Gospel, the call of the 12 apostles, had all of the substance. I must admit that I was wrong.

There is a lot to unpack in the dialogue between David and Saul. First and foremost, we see David’s ability to discern the voice of the Lord and follow His commands. On the other hand, David’s servants thought they heard the Lord’s voice clearly when they encouraged David to kill Saul, his enemy, who was seeking his life. However, David knew that Saul was the Lord’s anointed one and that he had been forbidden by the Lord to lay a hand on his master. And so David clearly heard and understood the Lord’s voice, sparing Saul’s life.

How clearly do we hear the Lord’s voice in our own lives? Do we hear His voice, ignore it, and choose to listen to the noise of our culture and society instead? I believe struggling to hear the Lord’s voice is why so many of us struggle in times of prayer. We turn to God in prayer seeking answers, His input, His wisdom, His love, and so much more. When we don’t hear or see a response clear enough for our human eyes, we question whether our prayer was heard and whether God cares about us. The Lord’s voice is often heard in the silence, in peace, and in stillness. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the ways He works in the little spaces, the little corners of our lives.

We can also learn a lesson from Saul in the first reading too. When David confronts Saul, revealing that he had spared his life, Saul embraces the spirit of repentance and forgiveness. Saul realized that he had been in the wrong as he sought to kill David and recognized David’s generosity.

In our human condition, we experience so much need for repentance and forgiveness. We sin, and we involve others in our sin. We need mercy and forgiveness, which is won for us by Christ on the cross, but we also need this mercy on a human level. A lot can be accomplished by the words, “I’m sorry for what I have done. Can you please forgive me?” Words that should be spoken to each other but especially to our Heavenly Father through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Although we just wrapped up the seasons of Advent and Easter, this sentiment is a wonderful Lenten attitude.

Stop. Listen for the Lord’s voice. Follow His commands. Ask for forgiveness when we don’t follow His commands. Repeat. Thank you, David and Saul, for these simple reminders.

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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.