Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of making peace with yourself. Most of us are ashamed by something in our past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves.
While we should never treat our sins blithely, forgiving ourselves once God has is essential to making spiritual progress. Here are four basic but bold steps that will help your bygones be bygones.
1. Openly Admit Your Faults.
Too often we try to sweep our mistakes under the rug because they just seem too painful to admit. Or we may even deny that what we have done is sinful. But false denial just paves the road to more guilt and shame. If you are plagued by something in your past, the first step is to admit it to yourself. Then go to confession and tell a priest. Once you have received absolution and done penance, seek out a family member, trusted friend, pastoral counselor, or even a professional to talk over the issue. Facing your sins is the first step to healing.
2. Offer Yourself Some Good Advice.
No one appreciates unsolicited advice. But perhaps you might accept some from yourself. If you have trouble receiving forgiveness for some indiscretion in your past, imagine that you are talking to someone you love, like a friend, child, or spouse, who has revealed some fault or mistake similar to your own. What would you say to that person? Would you suggest clinging to guilt, holding on to humiliation, or persisting in self-imposed punishment? Or would your advice be to forgive the error? A simple thought experiment like that can help you move past self-reproach and blame.
3. Reflect on God’s Mercy.
Unremitting guilt can easily declare war on our sense of happiness and freedom. Considering the wideness of God’s mercy is a powerful defense. Scripture offers many positive messages to combat negative feelings of worthlessness. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” declares Psalm 145. “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made,” sings the author of Psalm 139. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us,” recounts the psalmist (103:12). Make these and other uplifting verses from scripture your mantra to free you from the grip of self-doubt.
4. Don’t Thumb Your Nose at God.
Cheap grace presumes upon God’s mercy by using it as an excuse to live a life contrary to God’s will for us. But we can also squander divine mercy by refusing to accept it. God’s mercy is unconditional. Never take it for granted by refusing to forgive in yourself what he already has.
After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
Our Sunday message series that we’re calling, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step in obedience to God’s desire for our lives. This week’s message underscores the power of constructing a spiritual infrastructure that will support and sustain whatever bold move you end up making for God.
While a spiritual foundation is essential for Christian discipleship, there are many ways to ground your faith. Here are a just four basic but bold steps that will provide a strong foothold for your spiritual life.
1. Set Priorities
Children often stall at bedtime because they don’t want to miss anything. As our society becomes increasingly frantic, insisting that happiness ensues from taking part in every possible activity, setting priorities for ourselves and our children is the only proper adult response. While prioritizing may sound simple, it’s far from painless. It requires discipline to jettison extraneous pursuits. When it comes to strengthening your spiritual life, less actually is more. Sit down with your family and create a time budget. Set in stone the truly important things like prayer, quiet time, and Sunday Mass. Then fill in the blanks.
2. Establish a Spiritual Rhythm
For centuries, monks and nuns have regulated their lives according to the hours of the day and a careful measurement of time. The sounding of church bells at regular hours established a predictable pattern and pace of prayer, work, and communal activities. To develop a spiritual rhythm in your life, consider marking time. Set an alarm on your smartphone to remind you to stop and pray at certain times of the day. Give pride of place to morning and evening by waking with gratitude and examining your day before going to bed. Whatever you do, make it a habit.
3. Choose One Spiritual Activity
The desire to achieve spiritual perfection can thwart even the best laid plans. Know your limits. Trying to do too much actually can result in spiritual laziness, called acedia, or even paralysis. While dabbling in and switching up a well-established routine of pious practices can reinvigorate a tired spirituality, it’s usually best to adhere to just a few activities. Devotional prayers like the rosary, journaling, walking in nature, daily Mass, adoration, and spiritual reading all are good candidates. Start by choosing just one and sticking to it every day.
4. Make Sundays Matter
Liturgy is both “the source” of our spiritual growth and “the summit” towards which our daily religious habits are directed (Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 10, 14). Sundays therefore should be the high point of the week. A spiritual life without Sunday Mass will wither and die, just as Sunday Mass without a private spiritual life will always seem hollow and pointless. Cap off the week by making Sundays matter. Every time.
Start your spiritual infrastructure today and then get ready for your bold move.
Priests often encounter people in crisis. Through my seminary education, I have learned some ways to accompany people through the tragic moments in their lives. One common approach is to help them put their problems in a more appropriate frame of reference. When disaster strikes, perceptions often become distorted, and working to ground the person more firmly in reality by offering accurate information enables them to navigate the situation better and take more control of the circumstances.
In the gospel reading this weekend, the disciples are unnerved by the death of Jesus. They are in crisis, and when the Lord appears in their midst, they are even more “startled and terrified.” Jesus knew that their hearts were “troubled” because of questions, doubts, and fears. He normalizes the state of affairs by giving them accurate information. “Look at my hands and my feet,” he says, “that it is I myself.” He allows them to touch his glorified body and even consumes food in front of them, so that they would know that he was not a “ghost.”
Indeed, fear and worry often arise from a lack of knowledge. Misinformation and irrational assessments can easily produce mistakes, false impressions, and errors of judgment. In the first reading, for example, Peter blames the people for demanding that Jesus be executed and a murderer released to them instead. Yet, he does not fault them entirely because they and their religious leaders “acted out of ignorance.” Their fear of the Romans led them to act accordingly. Had they known who Jesus really was, they never would have hung him “on a tree” (Acts 5:30).
We began a new message series on Easter Sunday that we are calling, Bold Moves. In last week’s message, we offered some clues from the gospel reading about how God is preparing you for a bold move in your life by drawing you deeper into his community of love. This week, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In other words, he provided good information to comfort them and quell their fears.
We live in a confusing and troublesome world. While doubt and fear are a normal part of the human condition, they often are exaggerated by a lack of understanding about our faith. To have the courage to make a truly bold move in our lives, we first must spend the time and energy to grow in our faith.
Every morning, I spend just three minutes listening to a homily on the readings for the day (www.usccb.org) and reading a reflection from Notre Dame (www.faith.nd.edu). To the extent we are willing to learn about our faith, God will open our minds to the truth, overcome our ignorance, and open the doors to a great bold move for us.
On the prow of the massive ocean liner, third-class passenger Jack Dawson played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 movie Titanic experiences one of the best moments of his life. Hovering dangerously over the icy waters below, he shouts out in a fit of ecstasy with arms extended overhead, “I’m the king of the world!” At the 1998 Oscar ceremonies, Titanic won eleven awards. Upon accepting the Academy Award for Best Director, James Cameron raised the trophy over his head and also shouted, “I’m the king of the world!”
Saint John, one of the twelve apostles, makes a rather bold statement. He says that whoever “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” actually “conquers the world” (1 John 5:5). In other words, there is something about a disciple of Christ that enables him or her to become king of the world by conquering it.
The “kosmos” that John refers to is the world apart from God and in opposition to him. Those with faith in Jesus Christ, however, conquer the defiant rebellion of that world. With the knowledge that Christ has saved us and remains with us “even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), we can have the strength to endure the attacks of this world, with its regrets, disappointments, frustrations, and failures. For in Christ we have the indestructible hope of final victory.
Notice however that John intertwines this conquering hope with love of others. In other words, there is a link between the Christian triumph over the world and connection with other people of faith. Just as someone who loves his or her own father also naturally loves his or her siblings, so too love of God and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ are inseparable parts of the same experience.
Indeed, according to William Falk, Editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, “much of our happiness flows from our connections to other people, our sense of community and joint purpose.” In this regard, however, Falk contends that we are “in distinct decline.” Instead of communal kinship, “the ceaseless hunt for money, security, and consumer goods, dominate most people’s lives; time for family and friends, and the activities that build community and meaning, is often scarce. Loneliness is epidemic” (Mar. 30, 2018, 3). Referring to the now-familiar Danish concept of hygge, Falk argues that what our society really needs is this deep recognition: “Richness comes from human connection” (Id.).
Last week, we began a new Sunday message series that we’re calling, Bold Moves. During this Easter season, we want to encourage you to consider some bold moves in your spiritual life of faith. As we heard in the first reading, the apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common.
One bold move you can resolve to make is to spend more time with this faith community. Explore our website (www.strendanparish.org) for the many opportunities to serve, give, and join our small groups, and conquer the world through some bold connections.
While Jesus lived, his disciples frequently demonstrated cowardice and confusion. After his resurrection, the story changed completely. Showing himself to be alive by many convincing signs, he appeared to the apostles for forty days and spoke with them about the kingdom of God. When they received the Holy Spirit, they became his witnesses in Jerusalem, in the nearby regions of Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.
Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles made many bold moves. They spoke truth to power and proclaimed Jesus Christ, even when arrested by government officials, attacked by mobs, and threatened with death. They lived in community, sharing everything and providing for the poor, and eventually laid down their lives, fulfilling the final command of their master to “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).
Indeed, the words “bold,” “boldly,” or “boldness” appear no fewer than ten times in the Acts of the Apostles, a New Testament book written by Saint Luke to chronicle the growth of the Church for the benefit of future generations of believers. After Peter and John were arrested and warned not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, for example, they prayed and “were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
We begin a new message series this Sunday that we are calling “Bold Moves.” For each of us, there are times in our lives when we face the hard choice of retiring into familiar corners or stepping out boldly. A job offer, marriage proposal, career change, college admission, divorce petition, aggressive treatment plan for an illness, and other significant life-altering events often force us to choose between taking the safe course or making a bold move.
To the extent we pay attention to our spiritual lives, the same choice awaits us. Will we be a slave to fear or a child of God (c.f. Galatians 4:7), who trusts enough in the providence of the Father to strike out boldly in new ways? Spiritual growth results from a series of difficult choices to enter into and maintain healthy spiritual relationships, to pray with confidence, to endure suffering courageously and wait for healing, to work on deepening our knowledge of the faith, and to commit to a radical love of the poor and the unchurched.
Genuine disciples of Christ do not allow fear to interfere with their decision to serve in ministry, give to the church and to the poor, get involved in small groups grow in their faith, practice prayer to get closer to God, or share their faith to bring others to the Lord. Instead, they rather boldly embrace the uncertainty of change, the pain of suffering, the risk of sharing, and the inconvenience of real commitment, in order to make bold moves on behalf of the Lord.
Follow the apostles this Easter season as they boldly proclaim Christ to a waiting world and then make some bold moves of your own.
Father Roger Gustafson