Tag Archives: God

The End of the Beginning

sistine-chapel-ceiling

There I was, about to enjoy my Chipotle for lunch, listening to some financial news, when the commercial came on.  The Catholic Channel was covering the papal election over on channel 129.

That’s right, I thought.  They’re electing a new Pope today.  Funny, we had just visited Vatican City a few months before Pope Benedict announced his retirement.  What a beautiful place!  It was huge.  Michelangelo’s paintings in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were breathtaking.  The views of Rome from the top of the dome in St. Peter’s were spectacular.

What do they talk about on that channel when there isn’t a papal election, I wondered.  I switched over to 129.  My timing wasn’t bad.  The two hosts were all fired up.  A new Pope had been elected!  Their excitement was overwhelming.  “We have a new Vicar of Christ, and he’s about to make his first appearance,” one of them said.  They were waiting for him to come out and make his first appearance in the window above St. Peter’s Square.

As I sat there, listening to them talk about this new Vicar, I realized I had tears running down my face.  Tears of happiness.  “We” had a new Pope!  A new Holy Father to shepherd us in the Way of Christ.

I should mention one detail:  I wasn’t Catholic.

Why was I so excited about this new Pope?  Why was my heart filled with new joy and warmth at the thought of this new Pope and the energy he’d be bringing to the Church?

I drove back to work, wondering for a minute what this all meant.  I quickly turned my thoughts to something else.  I switched my radio over to The Blend, and acted like nothing had happened.

As I drove home from work later that day, I switched back to 129 to hear more about the new Pope.

I let almost a year go by without taking any action, or telling anyone about my new-found favorite station.

It’s not like the news that I had suddenly felt a spiritual (religious?) connection to the Catholic Church would be unwelcome in my family.  My wife and daughters are Catholic.  My daughters both graduated college with theology and philosophy degrees.  My in-laws are Catholic.  Many of our friends are Catholic.  I’ve been an active volunteer at our Church for years.  I had always been connected to the Catholic Church, but never had a spiritual connection.  I never truly believed.

Now, for the first time in my life, I believed.  An emptiness I didn’t know I had was suddenly filled.

I remember going to a weekend camp when I was about eight years old.  Big David (who was a few years older than Little David, who also lived on our street) invited me to attend his camp in the mountains.  That sounded pretty great to me, and I’m sure my parents were happy to have a weekend break from one of their rambunctious sons.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a Bible camp.  This would be my first introduction to anything religious, since my family wasn’t religious.  We arrived and were assigned to our cabins and counselors.  I don’t remember my counselor’s name, but I do remember one of the first questions he asked me.  “Bobby, have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”

Who was Jesus?  What does he mean to accept Him?  Why was I the only one he asked?  What is this place?  I spent an awkward weekend, being a volunteer kitchen helper (each cabin was in charge of service for one meal), listening to lectures from the Bible, and being asked at least once a day if I was ready to accept Jesus into my heart.  Needless to say, my first introduction to Jesus didn’t go well.

I had a few more introductions over the years, and finally was introduced more formally by my (soon-to-be, at the time) wife, Janet.  I learned a lot about the Catholic Church as I prepared to be married in one.  And yet, I still didn’t know who Jesus was.  I kept having the same questions I had when I was eight.  Besides, I had things pretty well figured out, and going to church was a lot of commitment.

It’s interesting to me that the number forty comes up a lot in the Bible.  Jesus spent forty days in the desert, fasting, and praying (and being tempted by Satan) after he was baptized.  Only then was he fully ready to begin his public ministry.  The Israelites spent forty years in the desert before they could return home.  Noah’s Ark was put to use after it rained for forty days and nights.  Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain with God.  Jesus was with his disciples for forty days after his resurrection.

From my first (messy) introduction to Jesus until this past weekend when I was baptized into the Catholic Church, I count forty years, almost to the day.  I’m sure it’s a coincidence.  Just like my random decision to switch over to channel 129 that day.  Or, the way my daughter added some Christian music to my iPod.  Those songs kept coming up over and over each time I went for a run.  I got to know those songs pretty well.  So well that I actually started thinking about their meaning, even before that day our new Pope was elected.

My baptism, confirmation, and first communion last Saturday night were the culmination of an almost year-long preparation process.  The process included classes every Sunday, after Mass.  It also included a ton of reading that I assigned to myself.  Books about the Rosary, the Saints, Saint Paul the Apostle (the Saint I chose as my Confirmation Saint), and the Holy Land.  I also did lots of reading from the Bible itself, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Funny thing is that throughout this process, I couldn’t wait for each Sunday to come.  I couldn’t wait to learn more about my faith, my Church’s history, and the love that Jesus has for each of us.  What was an unreasonable commitment to my younger self has become an integral part of who I am today.

After forty years, I’m coming to the end of the beginning of my relationship with God.

Looking back, I can see so many places where God was with me, even as I ignored Him, or spoke against Him.  He was patient.  He knew I’d eventually find Him right where He’s always been…beside me.

 

 

Two Stories for Lent

As Lent begins, I thought I’d share these two stories.  Both are classics, and worthy of contemplation:

The Doctor and the Father

A doctor entered the hospital in a hurry after being called in for an urgent surgery.  He had answered the call, dropped what he was doing, and went directly to the surgery ward.  He found the boy’s father pacing in the hall waiting for the doctor.

On seeing him, the father yelled, “Why did you take all this time to come?  Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger?  Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?”

The doctor smiled and said, “I am sorry.  I wasn’t in the hospital and I came as fast as I could after receiving the call.  And now, I wish you’d calm down so that I can do my work.”

“Calm down?!  If that was your son in that room, would you calm down?” asked the father angrily.

The doctor smiled again and replied, “I will say what Job said in the Holy Book: ‘From dust we came and to dust we return, blessed be the name of God.’  Doctors cannot prolong lives.  Go and pray for your son, and we will do our best by God’s grace.”

“Giving such advice is easy when you’re not concerned,” murmured the father.

The surgery took many hours, after which the doctor went out happily to greet the father.  “Thank goodness, the surgery was successful, and your son is saved!”  And without waiting for the father’s reply, he carried on his way running down the hall toward the exit, as he yelled, “If you have any further questions, please ask the nurse!”

“Why is he so arrogant?  He couldn’t wait a few minutes so that I could ask about my son’s state?” asked the father when he saw the nurse minutes after the doctor had left.

The nurse answered, tears coming down her face, “His son died yesterday in a car accident.  He was at the funeral when we called him for your son’s surgery.  And now that he saved your son’s life, he left running to attend what’s left of his son’s funeral.”

We go through life, never truly knowing what burdens others are carrying.

Which are you?  The doctor, or the father?

 

Lunch with God

A little boy wanted to meet God.  He packed his suitcase with dress clothes, and some packets of cakes for his journey.  He walked a long way and felt tired.

As he sat in a park to rest, he opened a packet of cake to eat.  Then he noticed an old woman sitting sadly with hunger nearby, so he offered her a piece of cake.

She gratefully accepted it with a wide look and smiled at him.  Her smile was so pretty that the boy longed to see it again.  After some time, he offered another piece of cake.  Again, she accepted it and smiled at him.

The boy was delighted!  They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.

When it grew dark, the boy was frightened and he got up to leave but before he had gone more than a few steps, he ran back and gave her a hug and she kissed him with her prettiest smile.

When the boy got home and opened the door, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.  She asked him, “What did you do today that made you look so happy?”

He replied, “I had lunch with God.”  Before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what?  She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen in my life!”

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home.  Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and asked, “Mom, what did you do today that made you so happy?”

She replied, “I ate cakes in the park with God.”  Before her son responded, she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring.  Each has the potential to turn a life around.

People come into our lives for a reason, for a season, or for a lifetime.  Accept each of them equally, and let them see God in you.

 

 

Your Life’s Mission

I don’t remember the exact year, but it was probably around 2003. My boss invited a couple of us to attend a leadership meeting that he attended monthly. Each meeting had a keynote speaker, and he thought we’d like to hear the talk.

The speaker’s topic was how our life’s mission impacts our leadership style, and ultimately what we’ll drive ourselves to accomplish professionally. He made a compelling case, and then asked each of us to state what our life’s mission was…on the spot.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I was pretty focused on the day-to-day challenges of making a living, trying to save money for our daughters’ college education, trying to find time to run and exercise, maybe finally furnish a couple of the empty rooms in our house.

Luckily I was toward the end of the line, so I got to listen to everyone else’s. There were lots of lofty and admirable missions mentioned. Most were brief. A couple of the missions took some time to explain.

A mission is a promise to yourself. A mission is a set of principles that guide your actions. We may not always fulfill our mission, but it’s always there, pointing the way.

As each person stated their missions, I faced the reality that I didn’t really have one.

My good friend and co-worker went just before me, and he said that his life’s mission could be summed up in two words. He smiled and said, “Have fun!” An awkward silence came over the group. They were probably wondering if this guy was serious, or was he just mocking the exercise.

The awkwardly silent room’s attention shifted to me.

I said something about creating opportunities for personal growth, challenging myself to push past my limits (whatever that meant), and I summed it up with, “Have fun.” Given the fact that I didn’t have a life’s mission when I arrived, it was a decent start.

Definitely not my final answer.

Over the years since that day, I’ve had this question about my life’s mission rolling around in my head. Now that I’m about halfway through life (that is, if I’m lucky enough to live until I’m 94), I think I’ve finally figured it out. I can sum it up with nine words:

Serve God.

Bring joy.

Help others.

Explore.

Have fun!

The room is looking at you now.  What’s your life’s mission?