Jesus and Our Resolutions

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This time of year we might think about developing new healthy habits such exercising more, eating healthy, perhaps getting more sleep, de-stressing and so on. There is nothing wrong with making some resolutions, but do we include Jesus in this process?

It’s funny how we don’t call on Jesus to help us with our physical goals and other needs in times of good health and prosperity the the same way we do when we are experiencing illness, injury, infirmity or other trials. Jesus desires to be part of our lives in difficult times and in good times. 

Jesus, help me to make food choices that are give me strength and vigor to serve you and others. Jesus, guide to me to some like-minded Christians to begin to gain more physical strength with safe and sustainable exercises. Jesus, order my day so that I have to time to rest and recover. Jesus, help me to maintain a habit of praying and and being physically active daily. Jesus, help me to be at peace with my body.

We know from Scripture that Jesus cares about all of our needs and concerns and that includes our physical needs. We see Jesus respond to the physical hunger of the crowd of 5,000. He see him repeatedly pair physical and spiritual healing. He understands that we get tired and hungry, that we grieve, that fasting is difficult, and that we are in need of a balance of activity and rest.

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Why are we prone to separating our physical and spiritual lives when we know that body and soul are one—and we know that Jesus cares about, and wants to be part of, every single aspect of our lives?

Unfortunately, we don’t see ourselves, and others, as Jesus sees us. When it comes to the physical, we can be influenced by popular culture which focuses on aesthetics. When we see our face or body in a mirror, do we exclaim with delight because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, his beloved children, made in his image and likeness? Or are we more likely to lament about aging or some aspect of our physical appearance?

What would happen if we gave thanks for the gift of God’s magnificent creation before us in the mirror and asked Jesus to guide us in our quest for a physical life that reflects His love and helps us advance in our unique mission? Can we be childlike and turn to Jesus to guide us in prayer and good works on our way to developing new holy and healthy habits?

Jesus, help us to be gentle with ourselves, to set realistic physical goals, to accept our physical limitations, whether injury, illness and infirmity, and to unite our physical crosses with your cross. Jesus, remove the scales from our eyes so we see our physical appearance as a reflection of you, and your great love for us, rather than succumbing to a cultural view that attributes beauty to worthiness.

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Jesus, we give you our temporal concerns because we know that you care about everything we care about and you know what is best for us. We pray to move forward with you, in faith and trust, to humbly address our physical and spiritual challenges, desires and concerns, both big and small in the new year.

How will Jesus respond? I think that’s the exciting part. We don’t know because he works so individually with us. We may even be surprised to find that what we thought was a physical need, like a thirst for a cool drink of water, is actually a thirst for spiritual strength, or in the words of the Samaritan woman, a cry for living water—water that will last.

Jesus, we pray for the courage to entrust you with every aspect of our lives, and to seek you first on our journey to be more holy and healthy.

Astonishment

We see repeatedly in Scripture that people were astonished, amazed and surprised at the teachings of Jesus. 

From Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.” 

They hung on his every word, they followed him wherever he traveled, and they were in awe of his teaching, preaching, healing and forgiveness of sins. Jesus barely had time to eat or sleep, but he prayed to be filled with the Father’s love to continue to minister to the people then—and to you and me now.

Astonishment can be described as a feeling of great surprise, wonder and awe and it defined Christ’s public ministry.

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We also see that whenever Jesus astonished the crowd, it angered the Pharisees who wanted to arrest him, yet they were afraid of the reaction of the astonished crowd.

Do we experience astonishment at the words of Jesus? Are we surprised when his words reveal to us exactly what we need to do to respond to a problem or to a person, or to address an area of sin in our lives? Do we give thanks, with a sense of awe, when he heals one of his beloved children physically or spiritually? Is his endless mercy something we reflect on in prayer with wonder and joy?

St. Augustine said, ”In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me."  

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I don’t want to miss moments of astonishment, and in fact, I want to meditate on, celebrate and share these moments with others as Jesus calls us to evangelize and encourage each other on our spiritual journey. 

I pray to grow in humility and childlikeness so that moments of wonder and dazzlement change me and make me more like him. We pray for him to pour his grace into us as grace can open the door for us to make real changes in our lives.

Recently, I felt called to go to Confession. I wasn’t sure how to make that happen with a full schedule of family, work and ministry commitments. So I prayed for Jesus to make it possible whenever the time was right.

About a week later, I attended daily Mass at another parish and I was astonished when the pastor announced that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be offered afterward—as Reconciliation isn’t typically offered after daily Mass at this parish. Jesus led me to that place, at that time, and worked out the details so that I could receive this vital sacrament.

Astonishment can take many forms and I love hearing stories about how Jesus works in peoples’ lives in astonishing ways, both in suffering and in joy, in little ways and in big ways too.

I pray that we cultivate a childlike openness so that we see and appreciate Jesus guiding and protecting us in our everyday affairs. May our hearts be open to an astonishing journey with Jesus.

Moderation and Consistency

I heard a priest say recently that he does three things every day: pray, celebrate Mass and exercise.

The first two are obvious, but why exercise? 

He wants to keep his body and mind strong and healthy so he can vigorously serve his flock. 

Exercise, when done moderately and consistently, can be a wonderful way to increase our physical and mental energy to be God’s hands and feet in the world. Since diocesan priests are serving their parish 24/7, good health and physical vigor is truly a blessing.

It’s funny that the word Moderation can sometimes feel counter-cultural.

A few years ago, I posted ‘Moderation and Consistency are the Keys to Fitness’ on the whiteboard at my gym. 

One of our gym members strongly disagreed with this sentiment. He told me it sounded weak. His philosophy was to go all out all the time. Unfortunately, he had many former injuries from extreme exercise so maintaining the habit of moderate and consistent exercise proved to be challenging for him and he ended up quitting altogether. 

Unfortunately, our go-go-go culture can make us feel that we must always do more and push harder.

There are circumstances where extreme physical preparation might be necessary, for example, in the military and in law enforcement where your job is to protect and save lives. However, the average person will benefit greatly from doing most activities with Moderation and Consistency.

The principles of Moderation and Consistency can guide our spiritual lives as well. 

While we may desire to pray silently at home every day for an hour, that might not be compatible with how God is calling us to serve in our vocation. We might not start to pray at all until we have a full hour — but if you are like me, that might not happen very often! We can become discouraged and stop praying altogether, so setting realistic expectations is key.

At my weekly Holy Hour last week, I was distracted. I had a hard time praying, reading or even really being present to the Lord. So much was going on in my mind about family and work. I know that God sees and loves our desire to pray even when we do it imperfectly, so we have to keep trying.

Like the priest I mentioned who prays, celebrates Mass, and exercises daily, we can greatly benefit from maintaining healthy habits, in a spirit of Moderation and Consistency, to serve God and the people God places in our lives.

Adventure

I believe that most people who walk into the gym have a bit of an adventurous spirit. They might not know it at first, but they soon discover many new things about themselves as they start to lift weights and move in new ways. 

Some gym members tell me they were a little unsure at first. Others say exercise has helped them get to know themselves better. More than a few have said they never dreamed they would be doing this and that they are excited to see what’s around the corner.

I am very grateful for my gym members who trust me to keep them safe and to teach them a new skill. Life is an adventure and learning a sport can be an exciting part of that adventure.

However, I believe that our faith journey, with Jesus as our guide, is the greatest adventure of all. 

Our Catholic faith is rich and deep and gives us the opportunity for a lifetime of learning about God, ourselves and serving others.

This adventure with Jesus doesn’t require us to travel to faraway lands. St. Therese of Lisieux wanted to visit all five continents to share God’s love with others, but illness and death at age 24 didn’t allow her to leave the convent. Her adventure centered around prayer and a desire to grow in holiness in her daily life. She is patron saint of missionaries.

From Story or a Soul: “For me, prayer is an upward leap of the heart, an untroubled glance towards heaven, a cry of gratitude and love which I utter from the depths of sorrow as well as from the heights of joy.”

Growing closer to Jesus is an exciting adventure that might make us feel like my gym members expressed: a little unsure at first, learning about ourselves, doing things we never dreamed of and excited about what’s around the corner.

We don’t know how our daily adventure with Jesus will unfold, but we trust in His love for us and we know He is right there with us. 

A friend recently told me that she thanks God for every part of her daily adventure with Him — from the gentleness of a summer morning, to time spent with loved ones and even for little conveniences in everyday life.

The pursuit of a God-centered life is an incredible adventure. We might not know what’s coming next, but through faith we know we are in good hands.

Always and Everywhere

Originally published in the Catholic Times, Feb. 28, 2106.

A few weeks ago, I had only one student for my evening strength class. I was a little disappointed that more people didn’t make it to class, even though I understand that work, traffic, family plans or simply being tired after working all day can make it hard for people to make it to class.

However, this turned out to be a great opportunity for me to work one-to-one with this student on his weight-lifting technique. 

I ended up training as well because it makes it more fun for the student, and it can be helpful, especially if the student is a visual learner.

We had a great time challenging each other to moving well and lifting strong. 

Our conversation shifted from training to a new topic when the student revealed a struggle he/she was having in daily life. I listened and offered encouraging words. I felt blessed to know this student who has been working to develop new healthy habits over the past few months. 

By the end of class, we were both feeling energized from talking, laughing and training.

As I was driving home, I said a little prayer for my student. Life can be hard and praying for each other is so powerful. I am really proud of my student’s progress inside and outside the gym; I prayed that this child of God will continue to be strong and active in his/her faith in daily life.

I started thinking about how God felt so present to me, through this student, in the gym while we were training. I am always a little surprised that God’s presence is so clear to me in my workplace -- in the middle of what I do every day.

But why not? God is always and everywhere -- which surely means he is where we are in the midst of our ordinary activities. How often do I miss seeing him because I am too busy? 

The one-to-one time with my student was an important reminder to me that God reaches us through the people and events in our daily lives just as powerfully as he does in our quiet prayer time. But if we are moving too fast, we’ll surely miss the little miracles.

I see in my neighbor the Person of Jesus Christ. - St. Gerard Majella

Rest

The Apostle John resting with Jesus at the Last Supper.

The Apostle John resting with Jesus at the Last Supper.

I love Sunday, but sometimes I feel a little guilty about resting. The Third Commandment asks us to rest on the Sabbath, and to keep it holy, but is this still relevant in our culture? 

Yes, of course, and perhaps more than ever, because so much is gained from rest -- even more now in our open 24/7, online, always open, technology-driven culture.

I don’t want Sunday to feel like the other days and I hope you feel that way too.

After Mass, I typically do peaceful things that I enjoy like reading, napping, praying, stretching, getting outdoors, and spending time with me family. 

I use author and speaker Matthew Kelly’s phrase ‘carefree timelessness’ in regard to Sunday activities. I want to enjoy the people and activities without too much focus on time and accomplishment.

So much good happens when we rest.

With our physical bodies, rest is a time for muscle repair and replenishment. Exercising our muscles causes little micro-tears in the muscle that allow it to grow and get stronger, but that can only occur when we rest.

Taking breaks from working, thinking, and doing, along with adequate sleep and stress management provide us with renewed energy and strength. This rest and activity cycle helps us to get stronger. 

Rest can also help us renew our spiritual lives. 

Caring for a family, working, volunteering and all the other wonderful activities that fill our week, while rewarding, can sometimes cause little ‘micro-tears’ in our spiritual lives. Rest can help provide a renewal of the heart and body and refreshes us spiritually and physically and gives us strength for the road ahead.

I depend on Sunday to be a reset where I can slow down, spend more time with the Lord, pray and be gentle to myself and those around me. When I am able to do this, I start the week with more calm and more Christ-centeredness and it helps me maintain healthy habits of prayer and action during the busier weekdays. 

Are you someone whose job requires you to work on Sunday? Thanks be to God for you as we need medical pros, police, fire, etc. to be there for us! Setting aside another day as your rest day is fine (I heard a priest share this advice.)

Rest can mean different things to you and to me. There is no clear definition of rest -- and that can make it challenging to live out. 

But Jesus is always inviting us to rest with him and He is waiting for us to jump into his arms and be renewed with his never-ending love.

Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28