Holy Week, Posers, Rosie Ruiz, and Me

In 1980 Rosie Ruiz did the unthinkable. Apparently at the tail end of the Boston Marathon she jumped into the crowd of runners and finished strong, appearing to shatter all female records to date. She accepted her victory as people marveled at her record shattering performance.

Can you imagine what must have been going on in her mind as people stood in amazement? The guilt inside. Shame. Fear. I am a poser.. One reporter is quoted as saying “Rosie Ruiz was never seen by race officials or in video tapes of the entire marathon until the final stretch.” Check out the short two-minute video below.

Most Lents I end up feeling like a failure. A poser. I start off somewhat strong, with commitments to follow Jesus, give something up, and take something on.

Yet, there I stood once again yesterday on Palm Sunday. The final week of Lent upon us, still feeling somewhat like a poser.  I found myself asking, Have I really journeyed with you during these days, Lord?

Anyone feel like Rosie Ruiz during this last week of Lent?

Standing in a crowd of authentic racers and knowing you’re only starting the race at the end. I’m late to the race again for Lent, but here I come hopping into the crowd of true racers to attempt my grand finish. If so, get in line…right behind me.

Yet, our week is here, and Jesus is waiting for us to join him. It’s a divine and grace filled invitation, one that we don’t deserve yet He pours upon us.  It doesn’t matter what we have done for the last 33 days, the invitation still stands today and there is no shame in finishing strong this week, even if we are only just beginning.

If you are like me and in need of a little encouragement, then please read the thoughts from a couple of saints below.

“The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves- St. Augustine

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”- Pope St. John Paul II

As we jump into Holy Week, we turn our eyes to Jesus in great humility and remember

“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning” – Hebrews 4:15

Happy Holy Week!

Advent: A New beginning

by: Phillip Douglas

I recently finished watching a YouTube Series done by Will Smith entitled, “The Best Shape of My Life”. It’s really well done. Much like most of us, it looks like Mr. Smith gained a few pounds over the Covid quarantine period, but who am I to judge; I can certainly relate. The documentary chronicles Will trying to complete the writing of his personal memoir while also attempting to lose a bunch of weight and get back into that legendary “Men in Black” shape. I won’t spoil anything, but Will is daringly vulnerable in the series, speaking into the depths of his many faults, failures, regrets, and childhood wounds. It’s quite refreshing and relatable.

The Best Shape Of My Life Trailer: Will Smith's Journey Is As Real As It  Gets
Will Smith,The Best Shape of My Life

A Divine Invitation

My heart has grown tired, weary, and my soul feels dry. Many of the things that used to give me life seem to be gone. Where, Oh Lord is your presence within me?

Which one of us can claim we aren’t plagued and dealing with our own wounds, regrets, sin, and weariness? Who among us is still holding fast to their childhood innocence and purity? Certainly Mr. Smith isn’t alone, right? He’s just got an amazing platform and a willingness to be vulnerable.

The season of Advent calls us into something even more daring than Will Smith’s challenge, to slow down and become like children again. The Church declares that in Advent we are called deeper into humility to become children of God (Mt 18:3-4) while also being born into the Holy Spirit from above; only then can the miracle of Christmas take place in our hearts (CCC 526). Sometimes I do wish indeed  I was a child again…

Have you ever stopped to ponder what we are preparing for during Advent? Its more than four melted candles in the center of our kitchen table…God Almighty becoming man, which is the most earth shattering, soul filling, life altering, hope invading, and path redirecting event that has ever taken place in the history of humanity. And somehow in His divine generosity, Jesus invites us deep into that wondrous event. What life changing opportunity!

Our Response to the Invitation

If I’m being honest, many times Advent just doesn’t move the needle for me. I rarely enter into the season. I always get too busy during the Christmas run up, and before I know it, the season is finished and all I have to show for it is a few half-burned candles- if that.

Yet Jesus has done his part by issuing the divine invite, one that has been well-crafted and personalized for each of us. During this season of grace, He is waiting for us. What will my response be? Will I respond to his offer of forgiveness through my humble repentance? Will I respond to His call for me to see His eyes and heart in the least among me? Will I empty my heart of pride, greed, lust, laziness, and the doubt of the power of His grace in my life? All of these invitations await us this Advent season.

Consider just a few of the reminders of the divine invitations God has given us in Scripture:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” -Revelation 3:20

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.”

-Is. 1: 18

These verses are Jesus begging us to turn to Him once again in this season of preparation. What is my response to these divine invitations of grace given to me by Christ Himself?

Making a Plan

One thing I found intriguing in his documentary is how Will Smith completely rearranged his schedule and environment in order to achieve his goal. He had to interrupt his world in order to reach his desired result. His diet changed, exercise routine changed, even the place where he lived was transformed.

So, this advent I need to ask myself, is becoming more like Jesus worth my interrupting or changing some things up in my life? Can I adopt new practices of prayer, giving, fasting? Can I schedule times of intense focus with Jesus where everything else is turned off? Can I shift down on hours at work or hours with friends so I can hone in on where the Holy Spirit wants to take me spiritually? What about finding a different routine altogether for Advent? For some of us entering into advent may look like turning our normal reality and routines upside down, just like the incarnation does, in hopes that our minds and hearts will be radically interrupted by Jesus Christ and His endless mercy.

Perhaps most importantly, do I actually believe that the Holy Spirit can change me? Do we believe that the grace of Jesus Christ can heal us? Heal us from our apathy towards His mercy? Heal us from our inclination to serve ourselves instead of our neighbor? What about our sinful patterns? Can the grace of Christ touch those or will we keep those hidden from Him once again?

What if Jesus desires to give us a new and different gift this Christmas? What if He seeks to renew us from deep within? What if He desires to shift our hearts, minds, souls, and strength into a new and transforming pattern of life? Are we willing to be docile this Avent? Are we willing to give Him the time and space?

Start by making a simple plan that includes times and spaces for prayer, giving, simple fasting and self-gift. Plan to be insanely intentional and liberal in giving out joy and love to those around you. Even to those who may not be so deserving. Write your plan down and seek to stick to it for four weeks. When you bomb and fail miserably after the feel-goods of week one and two, pull your plan back out and recommit to it. Maybe, after four weeks, we can also, like Will Smith, be in the best shape of our lives. Jesus is waiting for us!

At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.” -St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata

Phillip Douglas and his wife, along with their seven children are full time lay Catholic missionaries currently serving in Asia with Family Missions Company. He is the author of Glorious Adventure: Discovering the Treasure of Taking Christ to the Nations and Finding the Father: Reflections of Grace, Mercy, and Healing in Fatherhood. To follow their journey please visit www.phillipdouglasbooks.com. To learn more about becoming a full- time lay Catholic missionary visit www.familymissionscompany.com

The King of Kings

Reflections on the Feast of Christ the King

by: Phillip Douglas

“People are and were ready to risk their lives to get out of here!” These were the harrowing words from an Afghan citizen with dust and tears welling up in his wounded eyes.

I don’t know where you were, but I know I will never forget where I was as I watched the horror unfold in Afghanistan this past August. Indeed, people were ready to get out of there as thousands of them flooded the terror scene tarmac of the Kabul airport. Several deaths were later reported in perhaps an unprecedented fashion…meeting their own death after hanging on and falling from a moving plane.

Afghan citizens running on the Kabul tarmac seeking to enter the US Air Force plane

So, What is God’s Secret Plan?

Is it just me or does it seem like the world we live in is getting madder? Increasing violence, terror, a global pandemic, global injustice and worldwide political upheaval. Sometimes, I find myself crying out, Where oh where are you in all of this, Lord!”

This coming Sunday marks the celebration of Christ the King in the Catholic Church, a feast instituted by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925. Just a couple of years before that Pope Pius XI released a document entitled Ubi arcano Dei consilio, which is which is Latin for “When in the inscrutable designs of God“ or perhaps more simply: Where is God’s secret plan. He begins the document with the following statement:

“Manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

Indeed, Pope Pius XI was correct, the abounding evil in the world is a result of lack of submission, our turning away from Christ, the only one who can provide us with any lasting hope. As I watched people hang onto moving airplanes for their dear lives I humbly yet fearfully asked Jesus that same question, “God what is your secret plan here?”

The King Has Arrived and His Kingdom Will Have No End

As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

The prophet Daniel reminds us that God’s plan for humanity does not reside in the plans of earthly men and women. Despite our unbelievable efforts to rule and govern the world with justice, we have and will continue to fail miserably. Nations will rise and fall, yet one Kingdom remains forever. Jesus Christ is our King and His ruling invitation (order) is for us to bow down to His will in our lives. His secret plan is… COMPLETE SUBMISSION on our part to the KING.  This is the grand invitation of the entire Gospel, summed up in the opening statement of Jesus’ preaching in Matthew’s Gospel, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”. (Matthew 4: 17).

Speaking of Matthew’s Gospel, there are roughly 30 mentions of “the kingdom of heaven” in his Gospel account. In Matthew, Jesus states that His Kingdom is like a treasure in a field worth more than anything else, a merchant who finally finds his greatest pearl, a king who demands his servants forgive others with sincere hearts, ten virgins who did not know the day or hour their master would return, and a king who threw an enormous wedding feast only to conclude that many are invited but few are chosen because they fail to respond appropriately.

Consider this, over 80 times in the Bible we hear of the Kingdom of God in some such fashion. It seems that for Jesus kingship is an amazingly important aspect of our lives as believers?

Submission to a King Sounds So Old School

If you are anything like me the word submission quickly conjures up a slew of negative connotations… teaching an animal to submit, weaker women in relationships with abusive men, and a martial arts fighter choking or forcing his opponent to submit…

But Jesus’ invitation is different, His Kingship is different, and His kingdom is different. Imagine for a moment a king who is found at the same table as his servants. Not only that, but imagine this same king offering Himself in full as a sacrifice for those subject to Him. There is nothing old school about that king; this is what you call a revolutionary king. St. Paul sums up this revolutionary king far better than I ever could in his letter to the Philippians,

“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

-Philippians 2: 5-11

Humility, Kingship, and Freedom For All

God humbling himself in such a radical manner to become man is an idea and biblical truth that we often carelessly gloss over here in the western hemisphere. Yet, for Christian believers in the east it is often the reason to believe in Jesus! How could God, the ultimate King become man, and subject Himself to such a grueling death for His beloved? Here in Nepal I have met many believers who walked away from generations of traditional Hindu religious belief because “God became man”.”the king humbled himself”.

Over 600 Afghan citizens fleeing their home country

Fortunately, there were thousands of Afghan citizens who were able to successfully escape the terror of the kingship before them in their home land. Many of them are now scattered among us in America now seeking life in a better kingdom. But even our American kingdom with her promises of peace and prosperity is fading. The only kingdom that will last is among us, it is the Kingdom of Heaven and the King is Jesus. The beauty of our King Jesus is that in all of His self-giving and humility he still desires absolute freedom for us. He comes knocking and patiently waiting. Most kings rule with an iron fist, placing demands upon those under them. Jesus offers us a free choice to believe and follow Him based upon our own conscience.

Finally, the Kingship of Jesus is offered for all of humanity; not one soul can escape the loving gaze and desire of their Heavenly Father. Thankfully, all of us renegades have received an invitation: white, black, straight, trans, believer, non-believer, Middle Eastern, American, and everyone in between. We live in a divided world today-many kingdoms in competition- a world who believes that Jesus came and established a kingdom among the righteous only. But, with Jesus, we have all received self-addressed invites that have been carefully crafted to our deepest of needs. With our King there are no distinctions, we are all His beloved sons and daughters, and while we are still here on earth we have the amazing opportunity to respond to the King’s invitation.

Diverse crowd of people stock vector. Illustration of cartoon - 125031477

Phillip Douglas is a Catholic missionary serving in Asia with his family. He is the author of Glorious Adventure: Discovering the Treasure of Taking Christ to the Nations and Finding the Father: Reflections of Grace, Mercy, and Healing in Fatherhood. Read more at http://www.phillipdouglasbooks.com. Find more about Catholic World Missions at http://www.familymissionscompany.com.

The Greatest Real Estate Transaction I’ve ever done

I want to tell you about the best real estate transaction I have ever been a part of.

Before we entered into world missions, I was blessed to sell commercial real estate for nearly a decade.

I can remember my first big transaction- selling the former Circuit City building with my mentor Hammy Davis. Hammy, now deceased was larger than life, wildly successful, yet perhaps the most generous giver I have ever met.

For months we had no offers on the building, and then pure exhilaration ensued. Out of the blue we had multiple offers all in one day and got into a bidding war. I got to see my mentor Hammy, who is now deceased, work his magic. We got to call their corporate office and inform them we were going to sell the building way above the asking price.

Many years and transactions distanced from that, I now find myself living here in Nepal,
with my real estate career long behind me- or so I thought.

We met Francis and Riana after Mass one day here in Nepal. They, along with their 4
children have fled horrendous, bloody, and unmentionable Muslim persecution from their home country Pakistan. They achieved asylum refugee status and are now trying to rebuild their life.

Before they fled Pakistan by force, they were both owners and operators of their own hair
and beauty salon. They both cut hair and she did ladies cosmetics. They were really great at what they did, and they loved it. In an instant, they had to leave it all behind to preserve the safety of their family. Now they are here scrambling around trying to find work. Between the Covid-19 lockdowns which have essentially shut down all salons, and the little number of available jobs,
it’s nearly impossible for them to find an honest day’s work. They dream of moving somewhere like America or Canada where they can try to pursue their dreams, but that is most likely not areality for them.

Life is extremely challenging for them here in Nepal. The average minimum wage worker here makes roughly 500-800 Nepali Rupees per day, which is roughly $4-$6.50 per day or 50-90 cents per hour. But for them it’s even challenging to find meaningful labor. It’s really disheartening. Our family assists them each week with groceries and essential items, but they need so much more.

Pope John Paul II declares, “Work is a good thing for a man (or woman), a good thing for
his humanity, because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes more ofa human being.” (Laborem Exercens No. 9).

Lacy and I had a wild idea one day. After prayer and discernment, we thought we would offer to help them start their own hair salon. When we mentioned this, their hearts and eyes came alive. It was like looking into the eyes of little kids – still filled with dreams, hopes, expectations. It was a thing of beauty. They began to imagine their lives once again as normal human beings-
pursuing their hopes and dreams as children of God, being able to provide for their family.
But quickly their childlike expectations were drowned out by their fear as they
exclaimed, “oh no, brother, we could never afford to start a new salon. We have no money.”

“Neither do we, my friend” I quickly responded, “but our heavenly father owns all of the money in the world, so let’s trust in Him.”

We found them a beautiful place in a safe area here in Kathmandu. I put my real estate
hat back on and noticed the high traffic counts, became aware of the large patio space we could turn into a little sitting area for coffee and tea, I negotiated rent for them, and we talked to carpenters about building out the space. I laughed inside as I felt like I was back in the real estate business for a minute! My man Hammy would be so proud.

When I was mentored by Hammy Davis, he always told me to give things away for free-
market knowledge, personal contacts, tricks I would learn along the way. I didn’t quite
understand him at first, because at times his giving was so liberal and unmeasured. I saw the man give away more commissions to nonprofits in my first year of real estate than the average real estate agent would make in one year. It was truly amazing and inspiring. “Just give it away Bru!” he would always say…Of course there was no real estate commission in this transaction, but the
joy, peace, and honor I had walking with Francis and Riana was worth far more than any money I ever made selling buildings.

This was the greatest Real Estate transaction I had ever done. Hands down. “Period. End of paragraph, Bru!” as Hambone would say. I teared up a bit thinking about how much Hammy would have loved to work with Francis and Riana. One day they will
meet one another I know .

Just the other day Francis and Riana celebrated an enormous grand opening for their brand-new salon. Fresh paint, new barber chairs, shiny brand-new mirrors lit up the place almost as much as their enormous smiles. OUR GOD IS FAITHFUL! And He longs to see His children
provided for, especially in their times of deepest despair. Every penny for their new salon was provided for by a loving and all providing God. With just a few emails our loving and generous donors supplied the funding needed for the project. How GREAT IS OUR GOD!

“My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ
-Phil 4:19

At times we learn things in our life and have no idea why we are learning them or when they will have meaning in our lives. Thank you, Hambone! “Just give it away!” I love you and miss you!

God Opposes the Proud

And all of you, clothe yourself in humility in your dealings with one another, for: God opposes the proud but bestows favor upon the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5: 5-7

Communicating today can be a challenge. 24 hour media, social media, a phone always resting in my hand, yelling, violence, killing, riots, canceling… I have become really good at processing my own thoughts and opinions, yet average at understanding my neighbor’s perspective. This should change.

I find I am having to remind myself constantly to slow down and listen to others. Speak later and speak less. I am reminding myself that I don’t have all the answers and that none of us do. I still need to be seeking the face of Jesus, probably more so now than yesterday. I sense our world is divided (that’s not groundbreaking) and our communication with one another seems to be exposing that division.

While living in Central America we served, fed, clothed, and comforted many people. It was easy to view ourselves as helpful, resourceful, and even needed. Oftentimes people would stop by our home and bang on our front gate, asking for something: beans, rice, money, shorts, and shoes. One time a lady asked me for a watch and to give her my guitar…

We tried to stay stocked up on basic items, so most of the time we were able to help them in some way. In their shame many people would lead with small talk and slowly build up to their ask. A long period of small talk in Spanish and then they would ask, “Do you have any more beans and rice?” or “My baby needs formula, could you buy me some, please?” For them it was a challenge, it took humility.

There were times when their build up lasted close to an hour or longer. At times I even thought to myself, Oh wow they aren’t here to ask for anything, they just want to visit. This always made me feel better, sort of like these people were becoming friends and viewed me as a friend. But, oftentimes, they would then drop their ask upon me, “Beans? Rice?” I became a bit jaded and my ego puffed up a bit. How dare these people waste an entire hour of my precious time only to ask me for some beans afterwards…I have other stuff to do.

Lada and Jesus were perhaps some of the poorest people I encountered out there. They lived just about a mile away from us- down the large muddy hill and back up again, then down at the bottom of another muddy hill by a little drainage laguna. Their little dwelling brought me to humble tears the first time I saw it. They lived in a barn basically. They had sectioned off a small portion next to the chickens on Jesus’ sisters property and created a small dwelling for themselves and their new born baby. Dirt floor, no electricity, no water, and half walls made of third-hand planks of wood. It smelled bad- like a barn. Home.

One day Lada came over and banged on our front gate. I was busy and cringed a bit as I didn’t want to be interrupted. I noticed it was her and her husband Jesus which generally meant they needed something. Sometimes she came to visit my wife when she was alone, but when Jesus was there it usually mean they were going to ask us for something. I sat and listened to them as we made small talk. An hour in or so, I grew impatient, prideful, cold and abruptly broke the conversation asking her, “Lada, is there something you guys need today?” I was ready to get on with my day.

“No, Felipe. We don’t need anything today. We are so thankful for the formula you guys gave us last week. We just wanted to come and visit. We love to visit with you all and we get so lonely sometimes in our small home.”

My heart broke, my pride and stubbornness had taken over me, yet in an instant they were shattered in a moment of truth from this sweet and humble couple. All they wanted and needed was friendship on that day. They were longing for companionship yet I was caught up in my plans for the day. I thought I knew their hearts and I didn’t, my pride was exposed.

In his letter, St. Peter reminds us to “clothe ourselves with humility” as we deal with one another. I reflect on this encounter with Jesus and Lada as far too often I think I know more than I actually do. Far too often I enter a conversation or situation with someone without clothing myself with humility. It’s hard to wear humility, it takes time to put on and is often paired with sacrifice and patience.

St. Peter then goes on to say that “God opposes the proud but bestows favor upon the humble.” Man talk about kick me in the teethe. God opposes my pride! I have a long list of things God opposes in this world and guess what, my pride often isn’t on that list. How embarrassing.

But, the great news is that through His grace and mercy I can receive his humility and in turn receive more of His favor which leads me to see the goodness in others. Pride or humility? Which do I want?

“Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests , but also everyone for those of others.” – Philippians 2: 3-4

Abundant Life, Living John 10:10

“I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

This was the Bible passage that changed my life when I was a young adult and truly began pursuing Jesus. Of all the things I saw in Jesus it was the opportunity of obtaining life- abundant, joy-filled, adventurous, everlasting, loving, and even sacrificial life. I can so clearly remember other Christians I looked up to who embodied this passage so well. They were overflowing with abundant life; it was contagious. To this day, when I am in doubt or struggling I open up my Bible to this worn out page and sit in reflection.

As a race of human beings we have had ample time and reason to reflect these days. Among many things, I have recently reflected upon a global pandemic here in America, those experiencing a global pandemic in other countries with no running water or food supply, racial and ethnic injustices in my own heart and in the hearts of others, and the fuel of anger, greed, and hard heartedness. It has been so easy for me to point a finger outside of myself and onto someone else, placing the blame elsewhere. It is also easy to view my own efforts to promote life, love, justice, and equality as pointless.

I think it’s time for me to return to this simple passage and reflect once again. I think it’s time for me to ask myself a few simple questions:

1. Am I receiving the life of Jesus in my own heart, mind, and soul daily?

2. Am I giving that life of Jesus away to others I encounter each day?

3. Do people see an abundance of life from Jesus overflowing in me or do they see something else?

“I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” – John 10:10

Forty Great Days

Lent… My not so favorite, favorite season of the Church Year. Not so favorite because Lent always seems to hold up a giant microscopic mirror directly into my face, revealing all my weaknesses, insecurities, and my lack of discipline. Sort of like the microscopic mirror in the bathroom of my mother in laws house, it reveals all my grays… I have failed miserably at Lent so many times. On the other hand, it is my favorite because it is a period of forty days to go deeper, forty days to walk with Jesus, forty days to focus on loving him and loving others around me and when I do that, I tend to discover great freedom, grace and strength, even amongst all of my weakness.

I recently came across a video of a man by the name of Vance Hinds. He was greatly inspired to lose weight and he put his mind to it like nothing else he had ever done in his entire life. On day one he weighed in at 475 pounds. His health was a mere afterthought to say the least, but he had made up his mind; Vance now had a singular focus- to lose weight. He started walking during his first week only to gain three pounds, but he kept at it. His commitment and humility were amazing. He posted his goal and challenge on social media and instantly people started to follow him, people even started to join him walking. Vance absolutely lit it up in the weeks and months to follow. He stayed focused, gave up much around him, he narrowed his sights on his goal, his focus was singular. Finally, after a year of his commitment, Vance weighed in to discover he had lost 177 pounds. He and his coach hugged in jubilation. His singular focus had produced great fruit; he had truly become a new person.

Quit fooling around

                So often we make our Lenten commitment to follow Jesus more closely, but instead of spending forty days in the desert being refined by Jesus, we spend forty days fooling around…trying to avoid chocolate or perhaps trying to pray more. While I’m certain these two commitments would be great in the eyes of God, lent is a time to declare to Christ that he alone is enough for us. In a world of conveniences, amenities, and excess, we are given a grand opportunity to declare to Jesus “You are worth so much more than all this stuff, Lord!” Could this be the lent whereby we recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ with a singular focus and find fruitful joy in our lives?

                In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis declares and invites us into this deep relationship with Jesus Christ as he says:

“I invite all Christians everywhere at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take risks; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived, in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us, we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” (Joy of the Gospel, 3)

Lent is our chance to narrow things down and pray for a singular focus in our lives: Jesus Christ. Like Vance Hinds we have to give things up and narrow things down in our lives. Instead of asking: “What will I give up this lent, ask the question : How will I grow closer to Jesus Christ this lent?” If we sincerely and with singular focus seek an answer from God to that question he will certainly not remain silent with us. He will reveal to us the areas in our lives that need to be weeded out, he will show to us how to focus on him alone amid a changing and empty world. The Church gives us a beautiful model in aligning our focus on Jesus during lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We use these three opportunities to find Him who is waiting for us. Seek Jesus. With a singular focus.

Becoming obsessed

                Do you know any people who have lost 200 pounds? I don’t think I do. What type of person loses 200 pounds? Someone who is obsessed is able to lose 200 pounds. We should pray that we become obsessed with Jesus Christ and his will in our lives during this Lenten season. We should pray that all our other passions will be exposed for what they are: merely other secondary unimportant passions. Considering Christ and his goodness and his mercy, my other passions and goals are nothing.

                Think about the people you know in your life who have accomplished anything grand. Generally, there is a subtle (or not so subtle) lining of obsession in their veins. The saints were obsessed with Christ, they were not mediocre in their pursuit of him. You and I can’t grow in holiness without becoming fixated and even obsessed with Jesus Christ. He must compel our actions and our days. But, this is hard. It’s so hard because often I want to compel my own actions or plans, I want to be in charge of my life. But, the blessing of lent is that we are granted 40 days in the desert to sort these things out with Jesus. Don’t be afraid to go there with him. Becoming obsessed with Christ this lent means my life and your life should look different. Different from last week and perhaps different from our neighbor, and that’s OK. If we want to become a changed person, if we want to grow in holiness and become more like Christ, we must do something different and we must go all in. No one loses 200 pounds by coasting along each day.

Take a risk this lent

                Once, at a conference, I heard a man speak who went on a forty day fast. And he lived to tell about it… I thought to myself “Who in the world goes on a forty-day fast?” He explained to us the process of his fast and the fruits that it bore in his life: he drew closer to God obviously, and equally as important God revealed to him that he wanted to serve in a particular way during a particular time. During that time, he actually met his wife and saw so many fruits come to life form his service. He explained to us how he felt that had he not have fasted and went to the desert with Jesus he probably wouldn’t have heard the voice of God calling him into action. God honored and blessed his fast tremendously.  Think about that for a moment: he took a risk and God was right there waiting for him, right there with more joy and  life to give him. 

As I listened to all this I thought “a forty day fast is quite a risk…you could become really sick and malnourished…” But, my takeaway was the often-quoted phrase “No risk no reward”. I certainly am not calling a forty day fast in anyone’s life who is reading this, but I am proclaiming that too often I am short sighted in what God wants to accomplish in my life because of my fears.  Are you the same?  God wants us to go all in. Take a risk this lent with your time, with your money, with your talents. Serve or give in ways you never have. Pray in ways and times that you never have done before. If you normally “can’t find time to pray” then wake up at 4:00 AM and pray then. If you have never really fasted then go for it. All in.  Now is the time. Risk taking for Jesus and his kingdom is the best opportunity we may ever be presented with. Our lives and those around us can be transformed by grace. Cling to the cross these great forty days.

Perhaps my favorite parable in all of scripture is found in Matthew 13:44. It’s the shortest of all parables for sure, but lacks for nothing. Jesus declares:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and buys that field.”

Lord, Jesus give us a singular focus and passion for you during these upcoming forty days. You are the treasure, Jesus. You are our treasure. Narrow our focus onto you and fix our eyes on you alone so that we can love you and love others as you do, and so that we can more humbly and more boldly take you to the world. Amen.

Passion for Christ in 2019

When I was in high school I played basketball for one of the most passionate men I have ever met. His name is Danny Broussard and he is an incredible basketball coach. While he certainly is a fantastic strategist of the game of basketball, what truly sets him apart is his passion for what he does. He loves to coach young men the game of basketball. He is deeply and oftentimes seemingly insanely passionate about what he does. He is a short man, but his presence is felt as of a giant. I have seen him command many of his undermanned teams to victory over teams containing twice his talent. Sometimes watching him coach a game can feel like you are riding a roller coaster, as he rarely sits, running all up and down the sidelines.  This is passion. In the midst of fear, adversity, and apathy, passion enters the room and blows the doors down.

When was the last time you met someone with great passion? I was blessed to have a spiritual director named Fr. Philip Merdinger while I was in the seminary. He is the founder of a thriving religious community named The Brotherhood of Hope. When you encountered him in the hallways you could almost grab a hold of his passion as if it were obtainable. He walks around with a mission; to mold young men into disciples of Jesus Christ. He was always on the lookout for his men; always looking to make eye contact with us and see how we were doing. I recall one afternoon in the seminary when the season of Lent was approaching. This is usually a season people would rather sort of ease into as it generally will bring about some sacrifice and personal pruning. But here Fr. Philip was roaming the halls clapping his hands like a basketball coach in the last minute of a tied championship game, calling out to each of us, “Lent is coming! Yes! Lent is almost here! Who is ready for Lent?” An enormous enthusiasm overflowed from within him in his pursuit to draw closer to Jesus. This is passion. His passion was unavoidable; it was contagious.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangellii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis calls us to a renewed passion in our evangelical witness. He states “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction. Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts” (EG261). Where is our enthusiasm, fervor, joy, and attraction? When is the last time someone entered our presence, and thought “Wow, I want what he has!”? But now is the time and our individual hearts are the place for this new evangelization to take place. The world looks at our apathetic brand of Christianity and wants little to do with it, because it lacks a sincere authenticity, and it lacks passion.

An all-consuming passion for Christ
Once while in India I visited the shrine and tomb of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) who is credited with evangelizing the country of India extensively. He was a companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola and one of the founders of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I was amazed and blown away by the passion he had for Jesus Christ and for spreading the gospel. He is known to have baptized roughly 700,000 people over the span of his life. He baptized so many people that it is often said that sometimes he could hardly move his hand. In fact, his hand sits in Rome today as a relic and a reminder to all of us that God wants to exhaust our bodies while on earth for the sake of his name and kingdom across the world. 

Perhaps God will not call you to go out and baptize close to one million people like Francis Xavier did, but indeed, without a single doubt, he does want to exhaust your body and time making His name great among the nations. He also wants to claim every square inch in our souls as his own. St. Francis Xavier had great passion for Jesus Christ and his Church; he died many personal deaths while on earth to sustain and grow this passion.  Like St. Francis Xavier if our all-consuming passion is to become Jesus Christ and his name being known in the world, we must have the humility and ability to see many other pursuits in our lives as “small ambitions”. What in your life is consuming your days and nights that is a “small ambition”? Abandon it and move deeper into the heart of Jesus Christ and receive a deeper passion to make his name known in all the world.

For some reason, we believe that there is some imaginary line drawn in the sand and if we cross it then we are viewed as having too much passion for Christ. It is real. We are afraid to have too much of Jesus. If we are honest and we take the time to read the gospels we will see men and women who encountered him and left with great passion; they were forever changed. Few people in the gospels encounter Jesus and walk away apathetic. But, we seem encounter Jesus every single week in the Eucharist and somehow walk away apathetic, and I just can’t imagine that is OK in the eyes of God.

Reset my heart this year, Lord
What if this year we determined to set things right with God and give him your passion? I’m not just talking about committing to church attendance and prayers before bed. Consider the following challenges:

1. Read the entire bible this year (it can be done in about 70 hours)- passionately. Let its wars, parables, proverbs, and promises calm the storms in your heart, and turn your fears into faith. Sit in his presence and allow the words of life to change your heart. Break it down onto small weekly goals.

2. Commit to a weekly holy hour in front of the blessed sacrament. Carry with you the weight of every struggle you have and lay it down in front of Jesus Christ, the only one who can take these burdens away from us. Ask the Holy Spirit to set your heart on fire for him and begin living in this spirit. Even if you struggle with or don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, give Him a chance. If you think you don’t have time for this, then do it in the middle of the night or early in the morning.

3. Commit to serving the poor and those in most need around you. Literally seek them out and serve them, regardless of what those around you say of them. Do it relentlessly and with passion, as if they are the person of Christ. Do it as if no one else will serve these people. Bring your family with you. Your entire world will change. But, you have to take the risk.

4. Commit to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others around you every week/every day. You don’t have to be a priest or minister to do this. The quickest and most practical way I know of is to ask people if you can pray with them when you sense a need. There is no greater way to share the gospel with someone. Eventually the doors will open and that person will be focusing on the love of Christ instead of their problems.

5. Stir up and place your passion for God in some ministry at your Church. But, don’t be a spectator. Take action, be passionate and lead.

6. Try to root our small ambitions from your life. What is robbing you of your passion? Identify them and root them out. More of Jesus and less of the world. Do I need  that much Netflix, Instagram, and work? Every time you go to pick up your phone try to pick up your bible instead…Its hard at first but eventually fruit will appear in our lives.

I’ve never met a priest like Fr. Philip. So humble, yet so passionate. One night, I couldn’t sleep so I ventured into the chapel at the seminary late night. It must have been 3 AM. And there he was before the blessed sacrament praying passionately. I could sense in his voice that he was struggling with something. Yet, there he was, instead of indulging in himself or what the world had to offer, he was dying to himself and gaining the passion of Christ right before the blessed sacrament. Passion is an amazing thing. When you see it, you know it and it tends to stick with you. Where is your passion?

Show Me Your Treasure

“But I would take a little cash over your very flesh and blood” – Derek Webb
            I remember the first big real estate deal I ever did. I was in way over my skis. I had stumbled upon this amazing investment opportunity. It was a homerun, an easy deal and the man who owned it really wanted to sell it to me. I clearly couldn’t afford it on my own , but I already knew who my partner would be. He was a trusted friend and a man of great integrity who was always in my ear asking me to bring him a great deal. I made one call and it was done. He had four other buddies who would all partner up with us and I would run the day to day management of it while they put up the bulk of the cash. 

            All of these partners were so well put together financially. Most of them were tried and true successful in oil and gas. I , on the other hand, was younger and trying to make my way in real estate.  I’ll never forget presenting my personal financial statement to the bank in effort to obtain financing. It must have been like a great game of “ one of these does not look like the others”. For those of you who may not be familiar with a personal financial statement, it is simply two lists of everything you own and everything you owe with a given monetary amount for each item. The idea is to own more than you owe, and the difference between the two is your “personal net worth”. Banks use it to analyze who they are lending money to and business men and women often pride their existence upon it. These guys were all worth multi-millions and I was basically a break even at best financially on paper. I must admit from that point on in my career in real estate I became very obsessed in my personal financial statement. I updated it often and I kept it on my desk to look at for inspiration. Grow rich, become financially secure, make something of yourself. I am embarrassed to say that a large bit of my treasure here on earth during my real estate career became what was on that personal financial statement. How sickening.


Go find that field!
One of my favorite places in all of scripture is Matthew 13:44. In it contains the shortest, yet most pound for pound effective reflections of all time. Jesus seems to strip away everything and present the gospel to us in its most basic form. He says so clearly “ the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” 

I love this passage for so many reasons, but perhaps the main reason is the mention of this man’s joy. Did you catch the emphasis Jesus places on joy in this summon? The man isn’t guilted into selling what he has. He is not shamed into what he has. Jesus doesn’t even tell him he needs to sell all he has. The man simply, and apparently pretty quickly, and with great joy realizes that Jesus is far better than everything else he has in his life. Jesus is better! Jesus is better than his plans. Jesus is better than his 401-K. Jesus is better than his security, his retirement, his money, and his possessions. Jesus is better. So often we find ourselves running around pursuing things other than Jesus. Some of us will spend a lifetime pursuing these things and we convince ourselves that they are not keeping us from Jesus and from building his kingdom. That is a sad reality for me to write. Do you think the apostles in the early church or any of the great saints spent their lives accumulating things on earth? This man gladly trades it all with joy and he is not even asked to do so. How I long to emulate this man. How I long to have so much joy in my heart for Jesus and his kingdom that I could follow in this man’s steps. For this man Jesus is the treasure and he wants nothing else at all.

That first real estate deal set me on a course. It was a course of accumulation and a pursuit of financial security and treasure. I kept updating my personal financial statement, kept looking at it, and kept focusing on it. Many people will tell you that this type of life is no big deal at all. In fact we have essentially labeled it “The American Dream”. Accumulate the home and items that make you happy while preparing to secure treasure for your retirement that way you can sleep easy at night and hand something on to your children and grandchildren when you die. Many of us buy into this like it is the treasure in the field. Our lives reflect this type of belief. We work and live for financial treasure and security, but isn’t it intriguing that these things are not really of interest to Jesus in the gospels? Read them thru again with the American Dream in mind. Is Jesus calling us to the American Dream or is he calling us to something far greater?
        Most days I am up early in hopes to pray and read. I am so easily distracted and so prone to wander off that I have to do this in order to stay connected to God. The world is enormous, some seven billion plus huge, and the spiritual and physical needs of people are even greater. I live in one small corner of this world, but it is an important corner of the world.  How will I spend my days and nights? Our lives are extremely short. In just a couple of hours children’s stomachs will be growling once again in Asia while their parents are living lives apart from knowing the greatness of Jesus Christ. As I type these words early this morning Jesus is inviting many of us to abandon all and build his kingdom so that those who hunger and thirst for him but do not know him would be able to receive him. But we are so tied up in our own little dreams and we are so caught up polishing our own little treasures.

            In just a few moments my children will arise and the day will start. There will be knocking at the door with people in need. No food, no mattress to sleep on, no job, drank too much cerveza last night, had no water to drink last night, need money for the bus, no home, no shoes, and on and on it goes. If I don’t rise early to pray and read scripture, then I have absolutely nothing to give. I must rise early and be reminded who and where my treasure is. If I don’t speak with God early and often then I lose sight of my treasure.

Apostolic Witness and treasure
            Each one of us, by virtue of our baptism is called to bear apostolic witness. That is, we are called to bear witness or example to the truth and goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that is passing and fading. In short, we are called to make it known to the world that Jesus Christ is our treasure. That Jesus is better… than everything else. The prophet Isaiah states it this way “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8). Do we desire for the name of Jesus to be great among those we live with? Do we desire his name to be great and renowned among the nations? 

Saint Pope John Paul II gifted the Church with an undeniable evangelical witness as he managed to log more miles traveling and preaching the gospel than any other pope in our church’s history. It was he who so wholeheartedly began his letter Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) with the following words “the mission of Christ the Redeemer , which is entrusted to the church, is still very far from completion. As the second millennium after Christ’s coming draws to an end , an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning.” (Redemptoris Missio 1). Imagine that, more than 2,000 years removed from the life and death of Christ and we are only just beginning as a Church. This is great news and terrible news at the same time. It is great news because it declares to us once again that now is the time to bear witness to the world and you and I are still alive to be a part of it. A world that is hurting, longing, and lost. Now is the time to show the world our true treasure, Jesus. It is terrible news because it also sheds light on the truth that personally as a church we have turned inward and failed in many ways.

Often times we have failed to point people to this treasure that is Jesus Christ. Somehow, in a world of constant broadcasting and streaming, we have failed with our lives to fruitfully broadcast Jesus Christ to the nations who do not know him. We have failed in so many ways to identify Jesus in the lost, poor, and hungry. It’s baffling. For St. John Paul II the evidence of his life’s treasure was made immensely visible throughout his twenty-six-year papacy. The selfless shepherd traveled to 129 different countries and logged more than a million miles making his treasure known to the world. For him the name and renown of the Lord was a sole priority. 

                What and where is your treasure? In Matthew 6:20 Jesus declares, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” What consumes your heart each and every day? What consumes your time and your money? 

            One day, about a year before I got out of business, I was shown a feature on my smart phone whereby I could track every single mile I logged each day so long as I had my phone on me. I was shocked and my treasure came into perspective. I could see many familiar places on my daily route: my home, do I really eat at that restaurant that much, my children’s school parking lot. But there was an undeniable pattern I could trace in my daily routine. The routine was to my office in the early morning, to several properties that we owned and managed, to the bank to make deposits and payments, back to my office, and back home. These were my days. Of course, I did other things and there were other location pings each day, but these locations formed a giant square. These four locations showed me where my treasure was and no amount of rationalizing could change that fact. I was a little embarrassed honestly. There weren’t many locations on there that did not involve some sort of exchange of money  (hopefully) in my favor. Money had slowly become my treasure. I wouldn’t have considered myself greedy per se, but my smart phone revealed evidence otherwise. 

            So what consumes your days and nights? Is your smart phone record going to look more like Saint John Paul II’s or like mine used to look? I am not saying there is anything inherently bad with going to work, making money, and supporting a family. These are good, necessary, and noble pursuits. But the question we must constantly (as in every single day) ask ourselves is: Is Jesus Christ my sole treasure? Am I anything like the man who out of joy sold all he owned to find Jesus and his kingdom in that field? The world will continue to see right through our American Prosperity version of Christianity until we are willing and able to joyfully trade all we have for Jesus Christ.