If you were in the pews this past Sunday you probably noticed how Palm Sunday really stands out from other masses....We get to start in the narthex and process into the church together, we get to hold those fun palm branches, oh yeah...and we have to stand forever to hear the world's longest gospel reading.
If you found yourself annoyed or struggling through the gospel this past Sunday, I have some advice for you. Next year, when you stand up for the gospel on Palm Sunday, put down your palm branches. If you weren't too busy using your palms to make a cross, or smack your brother, or lightly tickle the ear of the person sitting in front of you, you might be able to concentrate on the gospel long enough to realize it's actually one of the most riveting stories ever told.
On Palm Sunday, we hear the entire account of the Lord's Passion-- from His entrance into Jerusalem to when he was laid in the tomb. This is an account of one of the most fascinating and influential stories in history, the death of Jesus Christ. And we aren't just getting the basic facts here folks, we are hearing the whole story....and what a story it is! This story's got it all! Celebration, tradition, betrayal, danger, surprise attacks, denial of friendship, suspense, behind the scenes with world leaders, angry crowds, violence, a treacherous journey, a wrongful death, destiny, love, anguish... it's got all the makings of a blockbuster hit, really. Any novel you pick off the shelf that has all of that in one story would certainly be considered a page turner.
So while you were maybe busy seeing if you got the kind of palm that can split into two palms, this incredible, true, deep, and memorable plot was unfolding. Often, the readings at mass kind of flow in one ear and out the other, because we think we've heard it all before. But truly, no matter how many times you've heard it, it's always capable of revealing something new to us. That's the beauty of the word of God, it never changes, but we do. We grow, we mature, we find ourselves experiencing different situations in life, and even though we may hear the same readings over and over, each time we can uncover a deeper truth we may not have been able to see before.
This year, we have been reading the gospel of Luke. Luke's version of the Passion has a story in that doesn't appear in the other accounts-- the tale of the two criminals who hung on either side of Jesus, and the conversation that takes place between the three.
Today, you will be with me in paradise. That is something every Christian longs to hear-- a promise that they will ascend to heaven and bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity. Sounds pretty sweet to me. But remember, the word of God has the ability to reveal truths about ourselves to us...if we are listening well enough and openly enough to hear them:
One criminal had this beautiful eternity offered to him in mercy; the other isolated himself in his own despair.
So the question is, which are you?
Both criminals were sinners. Both had no business receiving mercy and forgiveness from the Lord for the choices they had made. None of us do. Even if you have never committed a crime that would warrant public persecution like the criminals, each of us have sinned against our Father and made choices that distanced us from Him.
When you encounter suffering or difficult experiences, do you respond like the first criminal, crying out that it is "no fair" and demanding that God to get rid of the problem, acting as if it is your right to be bailed out and His duty to do so?
Instead, in the face of suffering, we should seek to react like the second criminal. First, he recognized his own shortcomings, and took responsibility for what he brought upon himself. Instead of demanding to be saved from the situation, he instead appeals to the Lord's mercy without expectation...but instead in humility, he adored and glorified the Lord regardless of his own suffering.
Do we deserve eternity with our Lord in heaven? Absolutely not. If you think about it, even one who has lived a spotless life doesn't deserve to be living with God in heaven. And we are far from perfect. Yet, the Lord offers His children a place in His heavenly kingdom. How will you respond to this opportunity?
This Holy Week, humble yourself before our Lord. Recognize your own sins, and pray for the Lord's mercy in adoration. You will be amazed at the outpouring of love and graces the Lord will bestow upon you. He did it 2000 years on a cross...and His arms are still outstretched awaiting you.
Have a blessed Holy Week and a very happy Easter.
One of my absolute favorite days of the year is January 1st. For one thing, New Year's often has fireworks (insert uncontrollable glee!) But besides that, isn't it exhilarating to think about having a fresh start? You know that feeling you get when you are able to say, from now on, I'm going to live my life better! There's something fantastic about a chance to have that power.
This New Year's my resolution was a pretty common one. I told myself, I'm going to work out more! I'm going to x, y, and z each day, and run at least a mile each week! I even thought that after the first month, I would start running 2 miles a week, and in the March I'd be running 3 miles a week. It was pretty exciting to dream about it those first 6 days...I was gazing into the crystal ball of my imagination and seeing myself in December, running twelve miles a week like it was nothing. Fit, toned, an optimization of my own human potential.
I say 6 days because on that 7th day I realized, Oh wait...if I have to run at least a mile a week... I HAVE TO RUN TODAY?!?
Amazingly, I lasted almost through January. Kevin and I were away with friends on a ski trip, it was the end of the week, and I knew I wasn't going to go outside and run a mile in the mountains. I just didn't have the willpower.
When we come home from a retreat, like Miraculous, for example, we often feel that same exhilaration. We have a renewed drive to be an optimized version of ourselves, and we believe with enough willpower, this goal is completely achievable. It's an awesome feeling really, almost like a tiny taste of invincibility-- we can tackle anything, we can overcome anything, we can accomplish anything. Humans have been chasing that emotion through every era; it's something innate that we long for. Invincibility. To never be hurt by anything, to never be anything less than completely content, to never fail.
Inevitably, though, we do fail. Why is that?
Let me tell you a little story you might recognize. There was once a place called the Garden of Eden. A man, Adam, lived there with a woman, Eve. You know the whole thing by heart, I'm sure. A serpent, an apple, and a misconceived notion that they, humans, knew better than what God had instructed them. A belief in themselves over the power of God, even a belief that they could become like God through their own superior choices and actions. Only, they weren't invincible like they assumed, were they?
The fall of Adam and Eve show us our own mortality, our own human nature to sin. And the result? Division from our Father, a Lord who would have us living in a garden of abundant nourishment and joy.
Even now, millenniums later, and with overwhelming documented history to suggest the contrary, we make the same misconstrued assumptions. Somehow, even when we are surrounded by the blessings and empowerment of the Lord's graces in our lives, we often come to the absurd conclusion that we are invincible-- that we have the power now to make our own choices and succeed entirely on our own merit and willpower.
Often, we don't even realize we're doing it. For those of us who have just come home from spring retreat, or who have been on any spiritually moving retreat, you know the euphoria, or even just calm contentedness that follows. And we should feel joyful and overwhelmed! We are walking in a mini Eden, showered with the Lord's graces and feeling the warmth of His smile in our lives... But just in that moment, when we think we are at our strongest, the Devil goes to work. The serpent slithers into our lives and we are convinced we are invincible.
How do we fall for it? You might ask the same about Adam and Eve-- they had it all, right? We've been promised it all too, which the Lord brought to our attention on retreat. On Friday night Mike reminded us, What we give the Lord he has promised to return 100-fold, not just someday in heaven, but right now in this life. On Sunday we recalled that the Lord has conquered death, and we know He is capable of miracles in our lives!
So if we know that, then really, how does the devil do it?
We let our guards down. This resolution to live our lives in a new and radical way seems so possible, we forget it is impossible without the Lord. We aren't capable of it on our own, but our motivation is so strong, it's as if we believe that through personal effort alone, anything is possible.
Those first 6 days of the new year, I had such high hopes. I believed that I could (and would) run and work out... but was I any different than I was the week before? I was just as lazy, just as busy, just as tired. The same obstacles were there. I didn't form a plan to overcome them, I just believed in my own willpower.
Coming out of retreat, it is my hope that each of you went a little further than I did on January 1st. What is your plan to overcome the obstacles that stand between you and the life you know the Lord is calling you to lead. Strength doesn't come from thin air, and you alone cannot produce the strength you need to resist the devil's trickery and lies. What lies is he trying to sell you? That you don't need to pray? You don't need to come to mass? You don't need the Lord to be the perfect version of you?
You probably won't see him slither up to you and start speaking parcel tongue; evil takes different forms these days. The things you see and hear each day are an easy target for him-- the perfect medium to spin reality and present it to you in a way that distances you from the truth and in turn distances you from the Lord. Commercialized, impossible versions of people, emotions, experiences, are his favorite trick. With Eve, it was an apple, but we have our own modern influences to tell us that we are all we need-- we can have the power to make our own he perfect lives. And like Eve with her apple, we want a taste of it.
You may have seen commercials for Under Armour's new band that is strapped around the chest and said to measure your "willpower". If each of us had one of those contraptions to measure our own spiritual willpower, we may have pretty high marks coming home from retreat. Similarly, your cellphone has a full battery right after you charge it. But that charge won't last forever. Even if you lock your cell phone in a drawer and don't open a single app, the battery drains over time. (And that would be pretty useless anyway, right?)
Remember to recharge that willpower by giving yourself a chance to refresh what you learned and experienced that charged you up in the first place. Prayer. Christ-like friendship. Meditating on the Lord's will for you. Praising God. I can't go back to January 1st to renew my "new year's resolution fresh start" willpower, but you have the opportunity to renew your spiritual willpower in the Eucharist at mass each week.
Remember, you are not invincible. And by the way, lent is the perfect time for that realization. "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." But the Lord is invincible, with power even over death, and if you root your efforts in His truth and allow Him to renew you regularly, you will have the willpower to follow through on your promises to Him.
Cathy's (mis)adventures with Technology:
One of the hardest things about ministry is getting the word out. Even if you had the most exciting, refreshingly creative and engaging events, without proper promotion all your hard work could go to waste. My time so far with StPYG has had it's ups and downs as far as event attendance goes. Don't get me wrong, we've never had tumbleweed rolling through our events to the soft sound of crickets chirping, but not every event has been as well-attended as I dream they will be.
And what's the first and last (and seemingly only) word in promotion these days? Social media. In today's society, even a twenty-two-year-old like myself can feel out of touch when it comes to technology. When I was in high school, texting was just becoming "a thing". I still knew a lot of people who didn't have texting as a part of their cell phone plans, and we got all excited about the latest and greatest flip phones coming out. The world of tech has come a long way since then, and being a high schooler seems totally different as a result! Teens are retweeting, liking photos, and beating their high score on fruit ninja all from their desks in class! There is a SEA of information out there and instead of listening to their teachers talk about Hamlet or food chains or the proper way to structure a scientific question, teens are swimming in it! Unreal. And while I don't condone surfing the internet at school, teens are diving right back in after school... so it was time StPYG caught the wave.
I set off at the beginning of the year on a mission to make our youth group a little more "user friendly". Other than a facebook group we had no real online presence. So I made a list of goals. A more up to date facebook page, a twitter account, youtube, a google drive for online leadership collaboration, and of course, a little update to our regular old website [although it seemed none of the teens would probably ever find their way there]. Then I got more ambitious... I started using constant contact to make our emails look snazzier, created a promotional video for our retreat, I began tweeting more often.... side note: Twitter was the hardest. I still don't get why you guys like it so much. Quite frankly, I don't care what each of you is thinking every minute. I don't need to waste my time on vague, off-handed comments that you know your closest friends will decipher and favorite. I still don't get the social nuances that govern when I am supposed to comment verses when I should favorite verses when I should retweet something. I've decided I don't want to know. As far as social media goes, a site that shows me that so-and-so posted "Oh really? Okay, if that's how it is." and 3 other vague comments 5 seconds apart from each other has really no appeal to me. Besides, sometimes what I need to say just cannot be said in 150 characters or less. Speaking of how long-winded I am, let's continue.
So 6 months into my job as a youth minister, I am finally addressing one of my personal main concerns, our website. I got back from retreat two days ago and the last thing I wanted to think about was youth ministry. I wanted sleep, a massage, and hours upon end of no one requiring anything from me what-so-ever. After I got 2 of those 3 things (the spa was closed :/ ) I started to get antsy again. I wanted to see how productive I could be now that my mind was cleared of retreat. So today, in addition to tending to my kindergarteners all day, I uploaded photos from retreat and the rest of the year to Facebook. I finalized the design of a 3x6 StPYG banner and ordered it. I built nearly this entire website (there's still somethings to add/fix)....oh, and I wrote this blog. It's amazing what a little rest and a clear mind allow us to be capable of! The Lord refreshed my soul this weekend on retreat, and then blessed me with the time to refresh my body and my energy as well. And I really am blessed, not only do I get to love what I do, but what I do is spreading the Lord's truth in this world, and whether it's through a weekend retreat or a few clicks on social media, I am unbelievably happy to be doing His work.
I hope you like the website so far. Let me know if you have any suggestions!
Our Staff blog gives you an insider peek at our ministry, and gives you some bonus material for your own formation!