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Striving for Holiness

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Are you ready to be called home to God?

Christ tells us that we “must be prepared” for our time will be “at an hour you do not expect.” Are you ready to be called home to God? I think this is a question we need to ask ourselves daily. This is why I love the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, especially the evening examine. It keeps me accountable as I strive for holiness. How have I shown a love for God and love for others today? What are the moments from today in which I have fallen short?

How can I avoid these traps tomorrow? Depending on how my day has gone, I often need to ask myself, “do I need the sacrament of reconciliation to repair my relationship with God?”

We do not know the time or place, but if we constantly strive to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and seek to share that love with others, the time will not matter.

It's Never Too Late

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What causes radical changes in our heart from day to day or week to week?  I can have days where I heavily invest in my relationship with God, and the next, push God aside and fail to spend personal time with Him in prayer.

A Jesuit at Marquette once told me that if Satan cannot tempt you into sin, he will keep you busy. Busy with work, busy with school, busy with extra-curricular activities. We run around all day until we collapse of exhaustion at night, only to repeat the next day.

That is the gift of Lent, to slow down and focus on what truly matters: God. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are meant to help us focus on our love for Christ over everything else that could control our lives. I, like many others, get caught up in the busyness and my good intentions fall to the wayside.

Yet, I am drawn to the second criminal on the cross. His life is done, he does not believe he can be or should be forgiven, yet he decides to put his trust in Jesus. Jesus responds by saying: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." It’s never too late. There is nothing you can do to lose God’s love. If you desire God’s love and ask for it, you will receive it.

A Way of Living

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I am about to say something that will surprise, maybe even anger a few people. Ash Wednesday, one of the most attended Masses of the year, is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. That’s right, you do not need to attend. It is not a sin to miss Ash Wednesday Mass. In my teenage years, I would have immediately shown this to my parents with excitement while planning what to do that night.

But don’t stop reading yet – Ash Wednesday has an extremely important lesson we all need to hear: In the gospel account for Ash Wednesday, Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Jesus is saying, when you pray, when you fast, when you do acts of service, do not do it for others to see and praise you for being so devoted and generous.

When I read this, I think of all the NFL touchdown celebrations I saw this year. Some of the best players in the NFL acting like a rookie scoring their first touchdown. I am reminded of a quote from Vince Lombardi, “When you go into the end zone, act like you've been there before.” When we practice our faith, it should not be for others to see, it should be purely to praise and glorify God. Our faith is not a list of requirements to check off or things you need to know – it is a way of living.

This way of living involves having a God who loves each of us unconditionally and who cares about our decisions. We have a God who is less interested in what we know about Him than if we know Him intimately: that we have a personal relationship with Him. That is the message we hear on Ash Wednesday. Do not practice your faith because you get rewarded by others for it, do it because you Love God and desire a tangible relationship with Him. There is no better place to show your love and deepen your relationship with God then attending Mass.

Ash Wednesday Mass is a great opportunity  to start a Lenten season strong, a season when we recall the depths of God’s love for us, by worshiping our God, and falling more in love with Him. God Bless!

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