Going Deep

This past summer, our son Isaac and I went for a swim in the lake where my wife’s family rented some cottages for a vacation.

As great as it was to see Isaac demonstrate his improved swimming skills thanks to recent lessons, I was even more proud of him for venturing out towards the floating dock.

You see, Isaac and I swam together to that same dock the summer before, with the intent of jumping off and into the water.

Watching me cannonball into the lake and come back to the surface with a big smile alleviated some of his nerves, naturally, when it came time for him to jump.

Deep Calls to Deep 4Seeing me wait excitedly with my arms open and after a short countdown, Isaac took his first step off the dock.

But when his mesh water shoe caught on an exposed screw in one of the boards, Isaac hung off the dock helplessly.

He flailed in panic as I treaded water supporting him, keeping his head from going under the surface while trying to free him from his shoe.

After a short struggle, I was able to power him back on to the dock but Isaac, understandably, was in tears and screaming loudly in fear.

I was eventually able to calm him down and he clung to me as we swam back to shore. But while he may have escaped the dramatic sequence unharmed physically, there could be no disputing the emotional damage.

Perhaps out of stubbornness, I believed it to be necessary Isaac slay this proverbial dragon and conquer his fears. Otherwise, he could be haunted by them and possibly be resigned to quitting when faced with adversity later in his life.

The sooner he overcame his unpleasant past, the sooner he could forge ahead with confidence to take on new challenges and opportunities.

So after much encouragement and even insistence, I was able to convince Isaac of the importance of returning to the floating dock with me this past summer.

Deep Calls to Deep 2Listening to our son shout “I am not a quitter!” after he successfully jumped off the dock into the water gave me such a thrill, knowing Isaac stepped out of his comfort zone and took major strides of personal growth.

In a sense, doesn’t God call us to do the same, challenging us to venture into uncharted waters with Him? (Psalm 42:7)

At so many points in our lives, do we not shy from risks, resorting instead to playing it safe out of fear that we will figuratively drown?

It could be a teenager declining an opportunity to try out for a particular team or club or attend a conference on behalf of his school, based solely on how it might affect his personal free time.

Or, an individual could pass on a new job promotion, unsure of the prospects she would have to meet increased demands or work different hours.

A person coming off a longstanding relationship may be reluctant to get back into the dating game, rejecting an invitation to dinner due to not wanting to face the possibility of heartbreak again.

It seems we can turn down many different chances to discover God’s presence and available blessings, due strictly to our own comfortable or fearful nature.

Deep Calls to Deep 3Or, much like St. Peter did while on the water during the strong wind, do we stretch ourselves at first, only to hit a snag and immediately lose confidence in the midst of our struggle? (Matthew 14:22-33)

I know for me, our family life is extremely hectic these days, as all of our kids are in some sort of schooling program, my wife has returned to work and my teaching schedule is in full session.

Evenings during the week seem like a blur and weekends are typically pretty jammed for one reason or another.

With tense times such as these, I occasionally find myself exasperated, wondering if our life is too full and if we have reached an unbearable maximum.

However, as a friend reminded me recently, God has not brought me to a tipping point; He has brought me to a testing point.

When I think about this, I can realize God is stretching me.

I can see I am being challenged to grow in faith in Him, believing with conviction that all will work out in the end as long as I hold firm in hope and continue applying myself fully in His Holy Name.

Deep Calls to Deep 1And so, no matter the situation in our lives, may we always remember that, while God may call us into deeper waters, He assures us we will not sink.

While we may feel uncertain or afraid, God promises us we will be better than before, growing stronger by stretching further.

And as we swim out farther and deeper in life, let us never doubt God waits for us happily and wants to swim with us every step of the way.

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Won’t you be my Neighbor?

Several months back, I wrote about how my wife and I were looking for a new house. Our family of five had been living in a three-bedroom townhome and, while we were very much enjoying our location and our comfortable abode, we felt an increasing need for more space as our kids would grow older.

So, after many weeks of actively searching with our real estate agent and placing bids on multiple houses, we were blessed to reach a deal for what we believe to be our dream home.

Striking a balance between needs and wants, and ensuring we could still afford this house without financial strain, we decided to take the plunge and move our family.

God Neighbor 7Thankfully, our new home is only a block or two away from our old one, allowing us to enjoy the same amenities and neighborhood friends with no disruption to our family routine.

Truly, we feel the whole process of finding and moving into this house has been providential, and we firmly believe that – God willing – this will be our family home into our retirement years (which, with three kids aged four and younger, seems eons away).

As we settle into our new place, though, I am reminded of the journey Jesus’ apostles embarked on following His Ascension into Heaven.

Commissioned to proclaim His gospel message to all people (Matthew 28:19), they went in different directions to introduce Jesus’ Good News to as many as they could, happily and openly welcoming disciples into the faith.

In some ways, I feel my family is called to do the same in our new neighborhood.

It’s been nearly two thousand years since His crucifixion and Resurrection, but Jesus continues today to send His disciples to profess His beauty and wonder to the world.

With this in mind, I know moving to a new neighborhood should not stifle my striving to spread Jesus’ Good News – it should only strengthen it.

So I’ve come to recognize that, while continuing to nourish our friendships in our old neighborhood, my family is also gifted with a chance to live and share God’s presence in making new friends.

God Neighbor 3How I interact with others when I meet them is an opportunity to innocently but proudly present God to a stranger.

For instance, seeing a person walking a dog on the street is a perfect chance to say hello and pass along wishes for a great – and blessed – day.

Whenever a neighborhood child knocks on our door to canvas for a school fundraiser, I am invited to show charity for a good cause and help our community, while wishing the young boy or girl well throughout their school year.

Each morning when my wife and I bring our kids to the school bus stop, we can either drum up conversation with the other parents and kids, or isolate ourselves and dismiss a perfect time to grow friendship.

Having guests come into our home for a meal or visit, we also have opportunity to share our life rooted in God through various ways, both powerful and subtle.

Having items such as crosses or plaques with Biblical passages hanging on our walls, or saying grace before we eat together, our friends can easily witness God’s presence in our home.

In a manner far less obvious, we can also reflect God’s glorious image through polite and respectful conversation, genuine interest in their lives and loving support for them in their needs.

You see, as followers of Christ, we are given a great ability to reveal God’s love to those around us, but with this comes responsibility to humbly share the Lord’s presence through our daily living.

In order for the world to feel God giving Himself freely each day, we as His children must offer others a glimpse of His loving invitation to get to know Him by our welcoming actions.

God Neighbor 2Through our hospitality, perhaps others will feel inclined to explore relationship with God by welcoming Him into their homes and lives.

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Laying the Foundation

For the past few months, my wife and I have been eyeing the housing market, on the hunt for our next family home.

We currently live in a townhouse and while it meets all needs for us and our three little children, we’ve been conducting lately a constant search to find our “dream home.”

No matter the house, it seems there’s invariably a concern related to at least one of the three tenets of location, layout and affordability, causing us to wrestle with whether any of the houses seen have been the right fit.

To help with our decision making, we always ask ourselves the same questions: Do we need this? and Is this worth it for our family?

It’s important we examine these points because we wish for the planning of our family home to be as prudent as possible for both the short- and long-term future.

That might sound a tad crazy, given that today’s society doesn’t always promote such careful vision.

Just the same, much like the building structure itself, Catherine and I want our house plans to be based on a secure foundation.

House on Rock 1Such an insistence calls to mind Jesus’ parable of the house built on rock and that which was built on sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)

An analogy so short and simple, Jesus’ teachings of roughly two thousand years ago still ring true today.

Considering His reference of a house as a metaphor for our lives, how many of us are building a firm foundation?

In a world that preaches instant gratification, how many people invest their lives in items so temporary in nature, such as electronics or social media status?

Do we place our greatest value on matters that truly are legitimate and long-lasting, such as quality relationships with our spouses, children and friends?

House on Rock 4Does our increasingly disposable society influence us so much so that we concern ourselves more with superficial things like our name-brand clothing or hairstyle, the car we drive or the party we attend?

Do we involve ourselves with our neighborhood, both offering and seeking support and encouragement at our local churches, schools and outreach centers?

Certainly, as our North American culture has grown more secular, traditional yet reliable faith, family and social values can easily lose some luster.

Ideals like community, sharing and accountability can get bumped to the curb for individualization, self-service and entitlement.

Appreciation for simplicity and essentials has given way to a popular culture of fancy gimmicks and unnecessary extras.

One can argue needs in life are being replaced increasingly by wants.

House on Rock 3For instance, cable TV companies include hundreds of channels in their packages, smartphones store thousands of songs and pictures, and social media outlets allow for millions of followers – and we as true consumers are suckers for all them.

Looking at today’s society, one can wonder where we place our priorities – on a foundation made of rock or of sand.

Among the clothes in our dresser drawers or closets, how many outfits do we wear regularly? How many of those songs on our iPhone include lyrics promoting Jesus’ Gospel and how many advertise inappropriate or unhealthy messages? When was the last time we sacrificed a program or movie on Netflix and replaced it with prayer or volunteer service?

As we continue navigating through today’s challenging times, may we resolve to keep God and His teachings at the foreground of all our thoughts, words and actions. (1 Samuel 2:2)

House on Rock 2May we feel encouraged to turn to God in times of difficulty but also celebrate Him through living out works of mercy and appreciating our many blessings.

Including God as our base, we can ensure we live a life built on a foundation of rock, worthy of eternal salvation.

Doing so can then help us prepare for when we move into our Heavenly house of dreams.

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An Identity Crisis

Two nights ago, I had the pleasure of having a foot bath.

No, this was not some spa experience, where you soak your feet in therapeutic salt water and then enjoy a nice massage from someone trained to relieve all of your pain.

You see, I was approached by one of our church’s priests earlier in the week, asking whether I’d be interested in participating in a reenactment of Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet during the Holy Thursday Mass.

Given the Mass was to be held in the evening in the midst of our kids’ bedtime routine, I was thankful my wife and I were able to juggle matters at home, allowing me to attend on my family’s behalf.

I was so grateful to have been present, as it was truly an honor to be part of the demonstration before the congregation.

As I shared with Catherine at home afterwards, I had taken part in such a reenactment once before, but this time was far more meaningful – and far more emotional.

Jesus Washing Apostles FeetAs the priest moved with his basin of water from one volunteer to another, I felt myself thinking of Jesus.

I imagined Him in a room, kneeling or sitting while pouring water over His trusted friends’ feet, drying them with care and ensuring each one of the apostles knew how cherished he was.

By the time the priest had reached me, I was thinking of Peter and how he asked Jesus to wash not only his feet but also his hands and head. (John 13:9)

I became so overcome with emotion that I was trembling somewhat and had tears beginning to drip from my eyes.

You see, when I look at my life and consider my sins, I know I’m not worthy of God’s unconditional love, despite whatever goodness I’ve contributed in His name.

For this reason, like Peter, I’d rather have an entire ocean of God’s holy grace showered over me, instead of a small amount of water poured on just my feet.

Yet, as Jesus reminded the apostles, only the feet are necessary, for we are healed of our sins and made pure with Him by His blessing. (John 13:10)

In contemplating my own identity and Jesus’ love given to me freely, I can easily ask myself, Who am I to receive this extraordinary and undeserved gift?

Who Do You Say I Am 1But during Holy Thursday Mass, I thought instead of the question Jesus posed to His disciples when He asked them one day after having been approached by crowds, Who do you say that I am? (Mark 8:27-30)

Having my feet washed and already with thoughts of Peter in my head, I couldn’t help but remember his answer to Jesus in that instance – You are the Messiah. (Mark 8:29)

We are challenged in our lives to decide who Jesus is to us. It is times like Easter when we can better concentrate on this question in order to be completely honest with our answer.

Shaking and tearing up the other night when having my feet washed, I came to further understand and appreciate Peter’s answer.

Jesus, You are the Christ – the Chosen One, the Son of God, our Savior.

Pope Francis recently addressed priests, challenging them to discern over Jesus’ identity in the world today and their responsibility to represent and celebrate Him.

“We either make Jesus present in the life of humanity or let Him remain on the level of ideas, letters on a page, incarnate at most in some good habit, gradually becoming routine,” he said.

Who Do You Say I Am 2As we commemorate the Lord’s Last Supper and His death on the cross on Good Friday, and look ahead to celebrating His glorious Resurrection tomorrow, may we find the courage within ourselves to also ponder more attentively who Jesus is for us in our lives.

As Jesus said He was thirsty while being crucified, may we strive to always deepen our relationship with Him, quenching His thirst for relationship with us while being invited to receive a powerful wave of God’s grace in the process.

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Doing our Part

We’ve been talking a lot about community these days in my Religion classes.

We’ve been discussing what community is exactly, along with its benefits in society and what we receive from our respective communities.

My students and I have been discussing Jean Vanier and his founding and development of L’Arche, an international community fostering inclusion and integration of people with intellectual disabilities.

Geese 3We’ve also talked about the flight pattern of Canadian geese and how their Flying V behavior represents the solidarity and effectiveness of community and the support of one another within it.

However, we’ve also been talking about our responsibility to give back to our community and not just expect things from it.

At home, our sons have taken a great liking to the kids’ cartoon Paw Patrol and it was during a recent episode that I noticed how those fun-loving and life-saving pups show a lot about God’s community.

Often, the show will start off with all of the dogs playing around together, enjoying a nice break from their rescue work. Suddenly, though, their master Ryder will summon them to their headquarters to inform them of someone in trouble and needing their help.

Paw PatrolI notice there are usually just a few dogs included in each mission, simply because only certain duties or responsibilities are helpful at that specific moment.

For instance, when there’s a seal or dolphin struggling out at sea, Zuma heads out on his hovercraft to help Ryder save the day.

If there’s a cat stuck in a tree, Chase can use his megaphone to call for its attention, and then launches his net to retrieve the animal.

Rocky is the master of using recyclable material to create new tools. Rubble loves to crack jokes and is always on hand to dig out of trouble with his bulldozer. Marshall can extinguish fires with his hose and applies his medical skills whenever in need.

Skye handles crisis matters with her helicopter and harness, able to provide air rescue at any time. Everest is the other girl rescue dog, called upon for any emergencies related to snow or ice.

True to one of the Paw Patrol’s many catchphrases, “No job is too big, no pup is too small!”

You see, each dog has gifts that he or she uses to better society around them. While Ryder recognizes each pup can’t solve every problem, he knows they’re all able to contribute in some way and holds them as valuable members of the group – ensuring that collectively, they accomplish their goals.

In other words, as I have shown on a poster in my classroom, no one can do everything but everyone can do something.

No One Can Do Everything 1I think that in so many ways, our world is like the Paw Patrol and God is calling on every one of us to live out our vocation of serving His will by helping His people.

God has given each of us talents, and it’s our duty to apply them for the greater good in order to realize His plan for us and His world.

For example, a hockey player may not be the best goal scorer, but he can focus on his backchecking or penalty killing abilities to help his team win, knowing there are others on the team more gifted offensively.

While not every student is a talented actor or actress, a high school theatre production is always in need of a good stage crew, make-up artists, program designers and souvenir vendors.

Personally, I would never challenge my wife to a cooking or baking battle. But I do know I can make up for my lack of culinary expertise in other areas, which is why I work so hard to tidy up after meals by doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, wiping the table and taking out the trash.

As taught in Jesus’ parable of the talents, God has given each of us gifts and expects us to use, develop and share them with those around us. (Matthew 25:14-30)

No One Can Do Everything 2Doing so makes others better while we learn and grow from them in return, enriching our community in the process.

So as we live each day seeking to find our purpose on earth, may we discover opportunities to give God glory and to give back to His community by simply doing our part the best we can.

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Adding Salt (& Light) to the World

Those who have eaten with me know how much I love ketchup.

They can attest to how I squirt oodles of it on practically every meal I eat.

Certainly, with a history of Diabetes in my family, I am very conscientious of my ketchup consumption.

Despite that, though, I just can’t seem to get enough of the condiment.

Loaded with sodium, you’d think I would be worried about my salt intake each time I put ketchup on my food.

Well, I might be taking this a little too far and I’m not saying God is telling me to add significant amounts of salt to my diet, but doesn’t the Bible at least encourage me to act like salt?

Salt of Earth & Light of World 1Recently, I was teaching about Jesus’ Beatitudes featured in His Sermon on the Mount, and as an extension, I shared with my students a subsequent passage – Jesus’ comparison of humanity to salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16)

 

This is one of my favorite Biblical selections, as it evidences how Jesus often took something so vast and complicated – such as our purpose on earth or His Kingdom in Heaven – and related it to something so small and simple.

You might recall the passage, which shares how Jesus invites us to be salt of the earth and light of the world.

The verses – if taken literally – can be a little perplexing, however.

I’m supposed to be an ingredient found in ketchup or shaken from a tiny glass cylinder?

I’m being compared to a lamp post or a night light plugged into an electrical outlet in a bathroom?

Salt of Earth & Light of World 2As I explain with my students, it’s only when we step back from the literal sense of His teaching that we can appreciate Jesus’ message and understand our vocation and mission.

You see, salt is an additive used frequently in meal preparation to enrich a food’s flavor.

Whether it be adding a pinch of salt into a soup to remove any bland taste or sprinkling some on your eggs or French fries, the right amount of salt can enhance the savor of whatever it is you’re eating.

Additionally, salt serves as a preservative, preventing food from spoiling and guarding it against decay.

Like salt, we are called to add flavor to the world, contributing our best in order to preserve and nurture all that is right in society while combatting anything that can cause harm.

As for being a light for our world, we are charged by God with the responsibility of illuminating society around us, bringing clarity to those who may live in a state of darkness or confusion.

Through striving to display virtues and a constant search for truth, we can shed light on the world every day in so many ways.

Light of the WorldA humble demeanor, respect towards all people, complete and genuine effort in all that we do and a sincere investment in our relationships can all help us serve as torches or flashlights, blazing a path of understanding for others so desperate to know God’s shining way.

As Jesus teaches, we should be mindful to do this with no hesitation or shame, instead providing an inspirational beacon of hope, recognizing the need for God’s light in the world. (John 8:12)

But what about the expression adding salt to the wound? Wouldn’t salt intensify the pain?

Well, as Jesus tells us, in living as salt of the earth, we act as an antidote for any suffering the world may experience.

While filled with blessings, today’s world is also undeniably wounded.

Child neglect, discrimination of all sorts, violence and abuse of physical, mental and emotional natures are just some examples of what fills our daily news coverage, leading to an increased sentiment of despair, pain and hatred – the antithesis of God’s plan for His creation.

But if we live out our salt-like vocation of enriching society’s goodness, preserving our world’s beauty and highlighting its potential, we can protect one another from all that is wrong and harmful.

Doing so can light the path to God’s Kingdom, restoring our community from brokenness and brightly guiding us to eternal paradise.

Salt of Earth & Light of World 3Of course, you can accept all that you’ve read here or disregard it, as is your God-given free will.

All I ask is that you take it with a grain of salt.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

This past Christmas, my wife and I received a card from a dear friend expressing thanks for support we had offered during a difficult time.

The card featured the title Gratitude and in it, our friend described how he was grateful for the friendship we’ve had the pleasure of sharing over the last few years.

It was not long after that I heard a program on the radio detailing the significance of gratitude and the challenge of giving thanks.

It made me think of a time when I was about 14 years old and wasn’t very happy – or thankful – for a significant Christmas gift my parents gave me.

Gratitude 1Wanting a Nintendo video game system that year, I had made my desires known to my parents for quite some time.

I made sure I behaved exceptionally well in the months leading up to Christmas, so as to earn my parents’ attention and convince them during their gift purchasing process.

When it came time to distribute the presents, my family huddled around the Christmas tree for my Dad to do his customary routine of passing out gifts to each of us.

NintendoI had noticed a large box under the tree, wrapped and containing my name on a tag, and so I had a strong suspicion I’d be getting the Nintendo I had been wanting.

 

Waiting until the last of the gifts, my Dad decided to finally call my name for that big box.

After ripping off the wrapping paper, my facial expression quickly turned from a look of awe and excitement to one of confusion and anger.

The gift? New hockey pants.

Sure, I loved hockey and had played in organized leagues much of my life. And yes, I likely could have used new pants, although the used pair I had been given a few years before were working fine, thank you very much.

Unhappy GiftBut I really wanted that Nintendo and was both mad and terribly disappointed I didn’t get it.

What a perfect example of how in society, we so often receive gifts and instead of being grateful, we complain about them and ask for something different.

How often do we act in this way when God gives us gifts?

Perhaps we want some nice weather during the summer in order to enjoy the beach, but then we grumble about how it’s too humid.

Maybe we pray long and hard to meet a person and fall in love, and then devote so much attention to that person’s faults.

How about a teenager blessed with beautiful freckles sprinkled on her face regretting her appearance because the person featured on the magazine covers has “perfect” skin?

What of the kid who won’t accept the clothes or cell phone his parents buy him as a birthday or school graduation gift since they aren’t the latest brand name standard?

If we are to always look past God’s blessings and offerings to us, we will surely never be able to fully appreciate them.

While it may seem farfetched due to social temptations and messages from popular culture, goodness can be lived when we focus on what we have from God instead of yearning for something bigger or brighter.

Gratitude 2So rather than griping about what God doesn’t give us, perhaps we can stand to concentrate more on what He does provide. (Psalm 107:8-9)

In demonstrating a little more thanks to the One who loves us, we might just be able to better apply – and reap the benefits of – all of those many gifts God bestows upon us. (Jeremiah 30:19)

Once we’ve learned how to live with such an attitude of gratitude, the game of life can be played that much more easily.

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