Monday, April 29, 2013

Silently Comes the Kingdom

“But [Jesus] was silent and did not answer.”
Mark 14:61

Heinrich Suso was a Dominican holy man who lived in the fourteenth century.[1]  An itinerant preacher of the gospel, Suso had acquired a far-reaching reputation for godliness.  One day a scheming woman left her newly born babe on the doorstep of Suso’s house and spread the rumor that he was the father.  Seemingly unphased by the accusation, Heinrich took the child, caressed it, saying, “Dear child, I will take care of you, for you are God’s child and therefore mine too.  So long as God gives me a single mouthful, I will share it with you to the glory of God; and I will bear patiently whatever may happen to me on your account.” 

Heinrich faced harsh criticism from all sides, even from his own friends who were all too ready to point scornful fingers at him and mock his reputation.  He was ridiculed, scorned and abandoned.  Heinrich withstood the accusations with serene silence, caring for the child with gentle devotion.  Not until the accusing woman lay at death’s door did she confess that Heinrich was not the father.

Sometimes silence is the loudest answer.

Jesus too showed remarkable poise in the face of false accusation, even if that led to his own death.  The above passage marks one of the few occasions that Jesus’ only response to a question was silence.  “Have you no answer?” shouted the chief priests.[2]  “Have you no answer?” Pilate exclaimed.[3]  Jesus was silent. 

But why?  He was unjustly accused!  An innocent man!  Why not stand up and declare your righteousness?  Point your finger back at them!  Jesus knew His equality with God was not something to be grasped.  His was a mission of servanthood, humility and obedience.  Inspiring countless others throughout history, like Heinrich Suso, Jesus knew that only God could right all the wrongs of a fallen humanity.  Only God could heal our blindness and reveal His true nature in the Suffering Servant.

A priest friend of mine recently reminded me that if you want to follow Jesus, “you gotta look good on wood.”  The reconciling work of God’s kingdom is far from easy.  As quickly as you build bridges, there will be those eager to tear them down.  Your work for unity will meet those who’d rather focus on the divisions.  Your commitment to justice may earn you some real enemies and false friends.

The question is, how will you respond?  Are you of the same mind as Christ Jesus?  Are you quick to defend yourself or point the finger?  Would you be willing to sacrifice your own reputation (and perhaps your own ego) for the sake of the gospel?  Are you ready to follow Jesus in all things, silently going about the work of the kingdom?

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;

Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.

Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;

Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;

Give the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God;

it was never between you and them anyway.

~Mother Teresa

            [1]  Heinrich Suso was a German-born mystic and priest of the Dominican Order.  Trained in the Rhineland school, Suso’s writing is considered some of the finest fruits of German mysticism.  His feast day is celebrated on January 23rd.
            [2]  Mark 14:60.
            [3]  Mark 15:4.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Discovering the Plank in My Eye

In 1910, The London Times asked a number of prominent authors to write essays on the theme “What’s Wrong With The World?”  G.K. Chesterton, English writer and famous convert to Catholicism, was one of those authors.  In his characteristic style, Chesterton, the “prince of paradox”, responded wryly . . .

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

What Chesterton could articulate in two words, many of us take a lifetime to acknowledge.  If we want to know what is wrong with the world we should look no further than ourselves.  It is not them but me.  My selfishness and my sin.  My possessiveness and my pride.  My arrogance and my apathy.  

In a recent argument with my wife I exclaimed in frustration, “I have hundreds of perfectly good relationships with other people but with you I turn into this person I don’t even recognize.  It’s not me, you make me this way!”  Not only was she responsible for her own wrongs (which in this case I was most insistent to point out), but my wrongs were her fault too!  Wow.  

It is amazing how “good” we are at seeing how bad everybody else is.  It’s like a sixth sense or something.  “He’s so self-absorbed.”  “Her hair looks terrible today.”  “Everybody says he’s so smart, but guess what he said the other day!”  “He’s too fat.”  “She’s too skinny.”  “If only he would loosen up, he’s so rigid.”  “She’s so touchy-feely.”   And on and on and on . . .

And we do the same thing when it comes to religious traditions.  "They are so caught up in ritual."  "All they talk about is 'me and Jesus'."  "That church teaches total depravity, can you believe that?."  "Those Christians think they can work their way into heaven."  The only thing that we can think about is how "the other" is wrong.  To us all, God reminds us, "Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions" (1 John 3:18).  Or as Mother Teresa liked to say, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

Take a moment to analyze your own life.  What log in your eye is preventing you from seeing the speck in your neighbor’s eye?  Take the day to practice compassion and not condemnation, forgiveness and not faultfinding.  For “the measure you give will be the measure you get back”(Lk 6:38).

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye,
but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Luke 6:41

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pope Francis and Young Life's Day of Prayer

There is nothing more necessary to the Christian life than prayer.  It is our lifeline to God, an ever-accessible means to commune with the Father.  Martin Luther King once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  Therese of Lisieux called prayer “a surge of the heart, a simple look turned toward heaven.”  So today, Young Life’s Day of Prayer, we turn our gaze toward heaven, allowing our lungs to fill with the Spirit of God and our hearts to surge on behalf of lost kids.

 On this Day of Prayer, I’d like to share with you a simple guide that has helped multitudes around the world to draw near to God and enter into meaningful prayer.  This guide was composed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, and reflects the beautiful simplicity of this man of God that both Catholics and non-Catholics have come to admire.  You only need the five fingers of your hand to remember this easy guide to prayer:

1. The thumb is the closest finger to you. So start praying for those who are closest to you. They are the persons easiest to remember. To pray for our dear ones is a “sweet obligation.”

2. The next finger is the index. Pray for those who teach you, instruct you and heal you. They need the support and wisdom to show direction to others. Always keep them in your prayers.

3. The following finger is the tallest. It reminds us of our leaders, the governors and those who have authority. They need God’s guidance.

4. The fourth finger is the ring finger. Even that it may surprise you, it is our weakest finger. It should remind us to pray for the weakest, the sick or those plagued by problems. They need your prayers.

5. And finally we have our smallest finger, the smallest of all. Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. When you are done praying for the other four groups, you will be able to see your own needs but in the proper perspective, and also you will be able to pray for your own needs in a better way.

Allow this simple rule to guide your prayer today.  Share it with your friends.  Teach it to your kids.  Pass it along to your teenage friends to whom you minister.  We are one in prayer!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Seeking the Lost: Young Life, Pope Francis and the "Villas of Misery"

Yesterday I wrote about Jesuit father Gregory Boyle and his incarnational commitment to the lost in gangland U.S.A.[1]  I find it compelling that the same sort of vision for ministry is witnessed in the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I.

In Buenos Aires, where Bergoglio served as archbishop for over twenty years, there are neighborhoods that locals refer to as villas miserias, or “villas of misery.”  These are Argentina’s most destitute slums, places where the poorest of the poor are found.  And these were the places that you were likely to see Jorge Mario Bergoglio. 

“He’d take the bus and just come walking around the corner like a normal guy,” reported one of the local priests.  “It was the most natural thing in the world.  He’d sit around and drink tea, talking with people about whatever was going on.  He’d start talking to the doorman even.  He was totally comfortable.”[2]

Bergoglio’s vision for ministry, witnessed in his life in the villas miserias, is precisely the vision of Young Life.  Catholics and Young Life leaders, all people of God, are called to a life of compassion, “going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”[3]  It is a participation in the very life of God who took on flesh and “moved into the neighborhood” of humanity.  This point cannot be overstated.  As the Lord Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”[4]

Young Life is responding to the universal call of mission, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to every kid, everywhere.  In the same spirit, Pope Francis is calling for a “missionary church, one that moves out of the sacristy and into the streets,” noted one of his close friends, Bishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano.[5]  It is there where we’ll meet the lost, the broken, the wounded.

Whether it be the slums of Argentina or the suburbs of the U.S., the problems facing our young people are the same.  "Drugs are a symptom, violence is a symptom, but marginalization is the disease,” notes Pope Francis.  “Our people feel marginalized by a social system that's forgotten about them and isn't interested in them."[6]  This is precisely the assessment of adolescent youth presented by Chap Clark, professor of youth, family and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary.  “The root of the issues related to contemporary adolescence has to do with leaving this age group to flounder on its own.”  Beneath the carefree and often rebellious veneer of youth culture, Clark’s research reveals a desperate world where kids are struggling to survive.

“The answer,” Clark says, “is relationships with adults who sincerely care.  That is the sole need of this abandoned generation.”[7]  Young Life and the Catholic Church can do this together.  The kids are waiting, wishing . . .

I Wish . . .

I wish I could tell secrets
To someone who would listen.
To someone who wouldn’t tell.

I wish I could meet that special someone.
Someone who loves me.
Someone who cares for me.

I wish I could talk to someone.
Someone who would understand.
Someone who wouldn’t laugh.

I wish I had a best friend.
Someone I can trust,
Someone I can tell secrets to.

Someone who understands me,
Someone who will grow with me,
Someone I can talk to.[8]

            [1]  For more information on Fr. Gregory Boyle’s ministry to L.A. gang members, please pick up a copy of his astonishing book: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.
            [2]  See John Allen’s piece “Pope Francis gets his ‘oxygen’ from the slums,” National Catholic Reporter (April 7, 2013) accessed 4/10/2013 at:
            [3]  Henri Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, NY: DoubleDay, 1982, 27.
            [4]  John 20:21
            [5] John Allen, “Pope Francis gets his ‘oxygen’ from the slums,” National Catholic Reporter (April 7, 2013) accessed 4/10/2013 at:
            [6]  Ibid.
            [7] Chap Clark, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
            [8]  This poem was written by an American teenager; Ibid, 173.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Seven Buses Into Gangland

The Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles is known as the gang capital of the world.  It is estimated that over 1,100 gangs with 86,000 gang members live in Los Angeles County alone.  Twenty years ago, Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, decided to make this his home.  Why?  Because the love of Christ compelled him.[1] 

He tells the story of Rigo, a brash 15 year-old whom Boyle met in a detention center.  Rigo recalled the day that he was sent home from school and was surprised to find his father there.  His dad, a heroin addict, was never there.  “Why did they send you home?” his father asked.  Scared of being beaten, Rigo replied, “If I tell you, do you promise you won’t hit me?”  “I’m your father, of course I’m not gonna hit you,” his dad said.  So Rigo told him.

Immediately Rigo started to cry, unable to continue.  The cry turned into a wail and Boyle put his arm around the boy as he rocked back and forth, inconsolable.  “He beat me with a pipe. . . with . . . a pipe.”  Boyle could only hold him, saying nothing, entering with him into unthinkable sorrow, pain and betrayal.

“And your mom?” Boyle asked as Rigo regained his composure.  Rigo’s face lit up and he stopped crying.  “My mom, there’s no one like her,” Rigo said.  Capturing a thought and then continuing, “I’ve been locked up for more than a year and a half and my mom comes to see me every Sunday.  You know how many buses she takes every Sunday to see my sorry a#@?”

Once again, Rigo began to cry uncontrollably.  Gasping through his tears he said, “Seven buses.  She takes . . . seven . . . buses.  Imagine.” 

It took seven buses to reach this broken teenager.  It took seven buses to bridge the terrible gap that existed between this young man’s heart and the love of God.  It took seven buses to show this wounded child that he was worthy of care and compassion. 

How many buses will it take to reach the disinterested youth in your neighborhood?  You may not live in Boyle Heights but the pain and abandonment of teenagers is just as real in the suburbs.  How many buses will it take to reach the millions of Catholic teenagers who continue to be uninspired and indifferent to the formation they’ve received?  Whether kids were raised Catholic, Protestant or with no religion at all, Young Life has found no easier way to reach disinterested kids than to follow in the footsteps of the Savior himself, to “take on flesh and move into the neighborhood.”[2] 

Like Jesuit father Greg Boyle, we know that we cannot continue to ask kids to come to us.  We must go to them.  We must move into the neighborhood.  We need to earn the right to be heard.  There are millions of kids out there just like Rigo, never knowing the love of the Father, who are waiting, just waiting to see just how many buses we’d take to show up in their neighborhood and show them that we truly care.

Our young people today, six or eight-million in the high school age alone, are waiting, waiting for somebody to care about them like Christ did.  I mean there are six or eight-million in our nation that nobody has ever talked to about Jesus Christ, that nobody has ever said a prayer for, that nobody has ever cared about.  There are millions of them in our own nation, and they are waiting for somebody to care about them enough to take the time and trouble to pour out compassion on them, to prove their friendship, to bridge this tragic and terrible gap that exists in our culture between teenagers and adults.[3]

            [1]  “For Christ’s love compels us,” writes the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor 5:14.
            [2]  A famous paraphrase of John 1:14 coined by Young Lifer Bill Paige who spent over 20 years as a beat cop and detective in New York City. 
            [3]  A quote from Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, taken from Kit Sublett (ed.), The Diaries of Jim Rayburn, Colorado Springs, CO: Morning Star Press, 2008, xviii.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Who do you say I am?"

“And you, who do you say I am?”
Matthew 16:15

This is perhaps the most important question Jesus ever asked.  Having heard the disciples pontificate about the crowd’s perceptions of Him, Jesus now moves onto a much more personal, more fundamental, more transforming question.  He is not asking, “What have your parents told you about me?”  He is not even asking, “Who does the church say I am?”  Rather He asks, “Who do you say I am?” 

When confronted with this question, at once, without even thinking, our minds race with answers – “He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the Resurrection and True Vine, the Light of the World.  He is the High Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Righteous Branch, the Precious Cornerstone.  He is Friend and Savior, Master and Servant.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  And with each correct answer we may be skirting the very question Jesus is asking. 

Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?”

This penetrating question should give us pause before impetuously jumping in with packaged answers.  In what way do I truly know Jesus?  Have I encountered Him personally or have I merely accepted the claims that others have made about Him?  Do I speak to Him often or just let the “religious professionals” handle that?  Do I ever listen to God or am I too busy telling Him what I want?  Jesus question is not only addressed to Peter and the disciples, but all of us today. 

In our age of instant diagnoses and ready-made solutions, the old patented answers, while theologically true, often fail to speak into an ever-changing world.  Do our answers truly address the questions the world is asking?  If we continue to recycle the same answers, do they continue to answer new questions?  Ours is a world of technological connectivity and psychological isolation, unparalleled prosperity and ecological fragility, chronic anxiety and addictive lifestyles, demeaning entertainment and manipulative media, shamefully widening gaps between rich and poor, a growing sense of powerlessness and abandonment among the young, moral confusion and international tension.  Surely the world wants to hear who Jesus is amidst all this.

So what would you say?  Who do you say that Jesus is?

“The essence of Christianity is Christ – not a doctrine, but a person.”
Pope Benedict XVI