Are We Willing?

“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Mt. 10:38-39

Jesus invites us to live fully alive in and with Him. He offers each us a life of purpose, and a freedom that nothing in this world can give. But in order to embrace this life with Him, we must be willing to daily take up our crosses and hardships–whatever they may be for each of us–and keep our eyes on Him. When we decide to live for God, He is going to ask us to make sacrifices. What are we willing to sacrifice in exchange for the joy and confidence that come from following Him? +

Signs Pointing Heavenward

“For if what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious.” -2 Cor. 3:11

There is much in this world that is glorious and beautiful. Think of the love between husband, wife, and children; the joy of deep friendships; the satisfaction of success after hard work; the sense of fulfillment from helping others… These, and all glorious things, are glimpses of the immense and eternal beauty of God. If the temporary goods of this life bring us wonder, amazement, and belonging, so much more can the everlasting glory of God. Let all of the beautiful, happy things you see and experience in life point your heart and your mind toward Christ. Imagine these earthly goods as daily signals and invitations from your Heavenly Father as He calls you at every moment into a closer relationship with Him. +

Dare to Be Great – Baccalaureate Address

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St. Patrick’s Church Baccalaureate Mass

Senior Address – Dalton Rogers

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Good evening, my fellow graduates, families, friends, and parish family. My name is Dalton Rogers and I am the outgoing President of the Catholic Newman Club at UC Merced. Tonight I wish to speak to you, not as any kind of expert or theologian, but as your brother, who has been on this journey of life and faith right alongside you. Some may wonder why we are here at all tonight. After all, we have our ceremonies on campus for graduation, so why have we gathered here in cap and gown? You and I are here because, while we value and appreciate our public education and the state that afforded us the opportunity to pursue it, we recognize more than a few realities which will not be addressed at our university’s commencement.

Among these is the reality that you and I have been created by a loving God with a specific purpose unique to each one of us. The miracle of the universe’s existence and ours is not mere coincidence or luck. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI emphasized this reality when he stated that, “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.” John Henry Cardinal Newman, the patron of our Newman Club, put it this way:

God knows me and calls me by my name.…
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.

How incredible it is to realize that each of us has been created in this way, with a unique fingerprint of God stamped into our very being. We have each been given distinct characteristics of our God which we are called to share with the world in some specific way. Many of us will do this as spouses and parents, some as priests and religious, some as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, businessmen and women, researchers, and a whole host of other professions. As graduating college seniors, we may not see right now what the ultimate big pictures of our lives are going to be, but we do know that no matter where God leads us, or how long it takes to get there, our mission, our calling, is to be fulfilled all along the way.

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” At the heart of your earthly mission and mine is to shine brightly the light of Christ within each of us, as it manifests uniquely in each of our lives through our passions, gifts, talents, and virtues. Our world needs so desperately for you and me to shine in and through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope St. John Paul II told millions of young people at World Youth Day that, “the world will offer you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” On this journey of our earthly lives, there are many temptations for us to seek comfort over greatness. The road of Christlike greatness is a difficult one of self-denial, but in the end it is the only one that matters, the only one that will bring us true peace, joy, and fulfillment. It is by traveling this road that we will be able to change the world in some small or even magnificent way.

In order to keep our lights shining bright, in order to sustain lives of greatness over complacency, we must stay connected to our Source. In Jeremiah 17, it says, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD; the LORD will be their trust. They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream. It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” Notice the verse doesn’t say “if” the heat comes, but rather “when” the heat comes. The temptations, the hardships, and tragedies of this life are sure to come, especially to those chasing after Christ, so we must be rooted in the stream of our faith.

Friends, for so much of our lives, we carry with us our childhood image of God as a stern enforcer of rules, often as a disappointed father with a list of expectations we have failed to meet. This is not an image of God that will sustain us when the heat comes. Why should it? I challenge you today to put away this false perception of God as mighty smiter, and take up the reality of God as a passionate lover who literally went to hell and back to have a relationship with you. That is what all of this is about: relationship with God, made possible through Jesus’s death and resurrection, sustained through the intimacy of receiving His body, blood, soul, and divinity from this altar at every Mass. Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…”

Brothers and sisters, dare to be great in your lives. Realize that you have something beautiful to offer this world, and a faith that can light up any moment of darkness. Fall in love with God—your Father, Savior, Lord, and Friend. Let us live in this world, but be not of this world. At the heart of this lifestyle of self-giving love is the fruit of true intimacy with God—a divine romance that brings your soul to its feet to dance.

Thank you, congratulations, and may God be with us always. +

Like a Child

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” -Mark 10:15

Do you know why Jesus compares the faithful with children? It’s because children are completely dependent on their parents for everything. They TRUST in their parents to provide for them and to take care of them. This is what we must do in order to enter the Kingdom of God! We have to become completely dependent on Our Father and accept the reality that He is in control, not us. Let us be like children in our relationship with God and rest in the unfailing care of Our Father. +

I Asked God

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve. I was made weak, that I might learn to obey. I asked for health, that I might do great things. I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy. I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have men’s praise. I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life. I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I hoped for. I am, among all men, most richly blessed!

-Prayer of the Confederate Soldier

It is a harsh and humbling reality that you and I rarely know what is truly best for us–what will bring us the most purpose and fulfillment in life. We have all these deep desires that inspire our hopes, dreams, and pursuits of happiness, but sometimes the paths we think these all lead to are not the ones we are truly meant to follow.

What we have to realize is that we did not create our own innate desires. We are not the masters of our deepest motivations. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to have the desire for close personal relationships, or the desire to make a meaningful impact in the world, or even the desire for personal success. These (and many more) desires were carefully crafted within me from the moment of my conception by God, my Creator.

Out of my desire to love and be loved, I may seek out relationships that are not ultimately part of God’s plan. The hunger in my heart to do something meaningful with my life may lead me to chase after accomplishments, fame, and worldly successes. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but they may be a bigger part of my will than God’s.

What is your idea of happiness, fulfillment, and success in life? Are you still waiting for that “perfect” job, searching for your soul-mate, or wondering when the stress in your life will finally be relieved? These things may come, in God’s time, but have you surrendered them to Him? Have you offered Him the longings of your heart, knowing that His will is always best? Do you really trust the Author of your desires?

You and I have to begin to examine our desires through the lenses of God’s imagination, not our own. Remember, He gave us all these desires we have and He always has a plan for them. The desires that you and I see in ourselves are like individual dots scattered around the large canvas of our lives. We struggle to make sense of these scattered dots and wonder how they can all fit together, but the Artist doesn’t wonder. He has a purpose, and a plan, and He is going to connect all these dots for us into a masterpiece work of art throughout our lives. The picture you and I would paint on our own from these “dots” of desires would fall so short of the masterpiece God has planned.

Talk with God about what the desires of your heart are. Tell Him about the struggles you’re going through. Ask Him to help you along this path and to lead you to fulfillment. Then surrender, trust, and rejoice in thanksgiving that He is in control. Will it be hard? Definitely. Will you get everything you ever ask for? Nope. But if you seek after Him your whole life long, the blessings you’ll get in both this life and the next will be so much better than what you would have planned, just not in the ways you expect.

Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish, You have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by Your will. Your grace and Your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. Amen. +

Our Crosses to Carry

“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?'” -Luke 9:23-25

A troubled and burdened man prayed and prayed that God would lift his burden. Day after day he prayed that his life would be easier and he begged for God’s intervention.

One day, Jesus came to the man and asked, “My child, what troubles you?” The man replied that his life was full of turmoil and that it had become too much to bear. He again asked for help stating that he just couldn’t continue to go on.

Jesus, feeling the man’s anguish, decided help was in order. The man was so happy that his prayers were about to be answered that his burden already felt lighter.

Jesus took the man to a room and stopped in front of the door. When he opened the door, what the man saw was amazing. The room was filled with crosses; little crosses, big crosses, giant crosses. The man, bewildered, looked at Jesus and asked how this would help him. Jesus explained that each cross represented a burden that people carry; small burdens, big burdens, giant burdens — and every burden in-between.

At this point, Jesus offered the man the opportunity to choose his burden. The man, so excited that he was finally able to have some control over his life, looked around the room for just the right cross. He saw a tiny little cross way back in the corner. It was the smallest cross in the room. After a bit of thought, he pointed to the cross and said, “That one, Lord. I want that one.” Jesus asked, “Are you sure, my son?” The man quickly replied, “Oh, yes Lord. Most definitely, yes.”

Jesus turned to the man and replied, “My child, you have chosen your own cross. It is the burden you already carry.” -Unknown Author

We don’t like the crosses we have been given to carry. They’re hard. They’re uncomfortable. They wear us out physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally… “Why THIS, God? Why have you given me THIS to bear; to struggle with? Couldn’t it have been something else? Something easier?”

I think we have all found ourselves asking similar questions of God before. We may even think that the person next to us has it way easier than we do, without knowing anything about the weight they carry. This story about the man who wanted to trade his cross for another illustrates so well a reality that God has humbled me with over and over again: that no matter how big or how heavy my crosses may be, there is always someone who has a heavier cross to carry than I do, than you do.

Now, this is not to say that the crosses you and I bear are not heavy or difficult ones. They most likely are. But the reality is that we are the created, not the Creator. We cannot possibly fully understand God’s reasons and purposes for the situations and challenges of our lives. Such an effort would be like one of Monet’s paintings trying to understand why the master artist would arrange all the colors on the canvas in this certain way. We, the creation, usually don’t get to see the bigger picture–that’s the Artist’s job. Our part is to trust in His skill and to surrender to being used for His purposes, because they are so much better than ours.

This is difficult to live out, but our willingness to bear our crosses brings God’s help to do so. Whether our cross is our state in life, our family situation, financial hardships, attraction to a particular sin, or any number of other challenges, we must remember God’s faithful promises: that He never gives us more than we can handle; that He always brings good out of even the hardest of life’s curve balls; that He has made us good, with a purpose and a mission; that He loves us more than we can ever comprehend, and that He desires for us to be happy. What most of us need is an increase in gratitude for all of God’s goodness in our lives. With every difficult cross we are given to bear comes a multitude of blessings to be thankful for.

No matter what our crosses are in this life, let us daily renew our trust in our loving God’s plans, and strive to say with St. Paul near the end of our lives:

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” -2 Timothy 4:7-8

Do You Believe that I Can Do This?

“As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’  When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I can do this?’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ they said to him.  Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘Let it be done for you according to your faith.’  And their eyes were opened.” -Matthew 9:27-30

What is it that is weighing on your heart right now? Is it a big question about what to do next? A difficult situation that you just can’t navigate? A cross that is heavy to carry? Close your eyes for a moment and imagine Jesus–the King of the Universe and only perfect lover of your soul–looking straight at you, with all love, compassion, peace, and joy… Hear Him ask you now, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Allow God the freedom to answer you, guide you, and give you clarity in His own time and in His own way. In the meantime, in your waiting and working, embrace His peace in moments of quiet. Let Him still your anxious soul. He wants this for you. Peace… Peace… Peace be with you. +

Our Tainted Wills; Our Need for a Savior

“Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags… Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” –Isaiah 64:4-5, 7

I think the most fundamental truth that every human being must come to realize is this: we need a Savior. We are human, and as such, are imperfect in nature and will. We are all mired by the effects of sin; stuck in the quicksand of our faults and weaknesses. Although we may desire and actively strive to be free from this quicksand, it is impossible to do on our own.

Our situation is very much like the alcohol or drug addict, in that we are out of control of our own salvation. For the addict, there is nothing he or she can do to lift him or herself out of the problem. He/she tends to make the situation worse when they do try. In the twelve-step recovery program, a person having hit rock bottom must turn his or her life over to a higher power; must surrender to a force beyond his or her own will. Why? Because his or her will is the problem. We balk when we hear someone say, “I am going to solve my drug problem,” because their will is so tainted by it. An exertion of their tainted will is not going to solve the problem.

This is my situation, and your situation, in our spiritual lives. Just as the addict needs an intervention and a higher power to break in and lift the person out of the problem, so do we need a Savior to come in and heal us. We cannot achieve it on our own by an act of our own will.

The concluding verse here from Isaiah gives us a comforting image: “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

What we need is the intervention of a loving God who will shape us anew. Because He does indeed reshape us into His beautiful instruments when we recognize these truths and surrender to Him! Do you believe this? Do you feel it in the depths of your heart that you need a Savior? This is square one for all of us who desire salvation.

As we enter into this season of Advent—this season of waiting and anticipation—let us reflect on our need of Jesus, the reason for His incarnation. If we can open ourselves to this need that we have, then we will be able to receive all that He has to offer. +

The content of this post was inspired by Father Robert Barron’s homily for the First Sunday of Advent. Listen to his moving homily here!

The Kingship of Christ

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’” -Matthew 25:41-43

Jesus is our savior, redeemer, shepherd, comforter, lover of our souls–yes! But far too many of us forget that He is also our Lord and King. God is our loving Father, but He is not a genie for us to keep inside a lamp and only let out when we need comfort and consolation. We must subject every part of our lives to His Lordship–our work, our play, our finances, our time, our talents, our sexuality, etc. None of these things are from us; they are all gifts given by our King to be used according to His will. Jesus tells us in Mt. 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.'” Are we subjecting our lives to the “will of the Father” every day? Are we doing all that our King tells us, which includes seeing Him in the least among us and caring for them? Your faithful practice of seeking and serving Christ in church is meaningless if every day you pass by the hungry, thirsty, unloved, naked, ill, and imprisoned and you fail to see Christ in them; to use the blessings God has given you to show them His love. Take a moment of silent prayer today and offer all that you are, all that you have, to the Kingship of Christ. Let us do as He instructs and allow Him to truly live in and through each of us. +

Consuming Fire

“Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.” -Hebrews 12:28

How much do you value your faith, your relationship with God, and the promise of eternal life with Christ that has been made to the faithful? In my view, there are two extremes–on one end is the person who uses his or her faith simply as a piece of demographic information about themselves, and on the other end is the person much like the Pharisee we read about in Luke 18, full of self-righteousness and thanking God that he is not like the lowly sinners. We know that both of these are wrong. We must value our faith with humility and gratitude, but it must be more than just a label that we claim in social circles, because “our God is a consuming fire.” While not making our faith about how “holy” and righteous we are, our relationship with God should affect EVERY part of our lives. Instead of maintaining our faith as a small, petite candlelight within us that we only bring out on Sundays, our faith should set our whole being ablaze with gratitude, reverence, awe, and worship. If we cultivate our faith to do this and give God permission to enter every aspect of our lives, it will change the way we think, talk, act, and interact with others. Reflect on this today and ask God to set your heart ablaze for Him. Your renewed spirit of love, hope, and joy just might spark a flame in the hearts around you as well. +