Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saving Father

“Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:14)

The song is a masterpiece. It is the soul of a movie and of a man. Its lyrics are both simple and haunting. About halfway through the movie “Mary Poppins,” the magical nanny sings “Feed the Birds” to the children as they go to bed. The song tells the tale of the Bird Woman who sits at the feet of St. Paul’s Cathedral selling bread crumbs to feed the birds. The song reminds the children of the importance of small acts of charity and loving those that we sometimes pay no attention to. The Friday before Christmas, in what was possibly the only two hours of daylight we could spare in that week, my sister and I went to the movies to see “Saving Mr. Banks.” The movie tells the story of what it took to make our favorite childhood film “Mary Poppins.” It was an incredibly moving film as it goes deeper into the original author’s inspiration for this story of a nanny who comes not to save the children but their father. (I’m not spoiling anything. This revelation is in the trailer and is quite evident to anyone who saw the original film as a child.) Throughout the movie, I sat there being reminded of how excited my sister and I would get whenever “Mary Poppins” would be broadcast on TV in the pre-VHS days. As an adult and even more so as a priest, I grew to admire the film’s powerful story of the redemption of a father. Mr. Banks did not know his children, and you get chills when the score of “Feed the Birds” swells as he stands at the foot of St. Paul’s Cathedral where earlier that day he had denied his son the gift of charity in giving two tuppence to the poor bird woman. He slowly comes to the realization that his children and not his job or life of order is what he truly loved. Mary Poppins knew that the children did not need a nanny but a father and mother who loved them and protected them.

The last two Sundays we have heard of the extraordinary lengths that St. Joseph went through to protect Jesus and Mary. Today we hear of when he takes his family into Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod. Joseph is given to us as an example of a father who protects and guides his family. God had set him as head of the Holy Family which meant putting his needs aside and only being concerned with the needs of Jesus and Mary. That is what fatherhood truly is. We gaze upon the Holy Family in the Nativity scene in our church or in our homes and marvel at all the sacrifices that Joseph and Mary made to protect their Son so that he may grow in “wisdom and age (Luke 2:52)” to save God’s people.

As I contemplate these readings and reflect on the films I mentioned above, I ponder the role of fatherhood in my life. Joseph was a shining model of a father to Jesus who no doubt used the wisdom imparted to him by the carpenter in his public life. I too have a shining model of a father who always provided and protected his family and still does. Though I have no children of my own, I am called to be a spiritual father to so many and called to protect them by offering them the only thing I have: the saving message of Jesus Christ. They come for healing, absolution, comfort, and yet so many times I fall short. “No time” is the excuse I offer most often, lame as it may be, and that makes me no better than Mr. Banks in the movie who had no time for his children.  I have been called to be the head of this spiritual family, and more often than not, your small gestures, your love, and your prayers remind me of how truly blest I am to called "Father."  I spent some time yesterday morning sitting in this empty church and thinking about today’s feast of the Holy Family and asking St. Joseph for guidance. I want to be a better spiritual father, and I want my parishioners to be better fathers and mothers to their children. We have to make time to do simple things with them. Whether it’s just sitting next to them as they do their homework or taking them outdoors to do something fun (fly a kite!) or just being present is the best present you could give your children. “Feed the Birds” reminds us that our children will remember us for the little things we did or didn’t do, the small acts of love, the warm embraces, and the comforting presence we give them when we are around. Today’s feast challenges us to strengthen our families by being the best mothers and fathers we could possibly be by protecting our children and showing them, through our good works, the loving face of God.

Pray for our families.
Pray for our fathers.
Pray for our mothers.
Pray for your priests.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Unlikely Heroes

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home." (Matthew 1:20)

There is an overarching theme in all the stories leading up to the birth of our Lord. Both Joseph and Mary are told, "Do not be afraid" by the angel. Joseph who was a just man did not want to expose Mary, his beloved, to shame. He feared that divorcing her publicly would cost her her life as prescribed by Jewish law.  But the angel comes to dispel those fears. God is with them. God himself will dwell with them. In an instant, Joseph is cast as a central character in this drama authored by God himself as this poor and simple carpenter would become nothing less than the head of the Holy Family.  Only the Provident Hand of God could write this story, and thankfully, Joseph, like his wife, accepts this unique call.  Like all husbands to be, he probably had his plans for Mary and himself, but God had more extraordinary plans for this just man from Nazareth as he does for you and me.

All around us simple, "ordinary" people are doing extraordinary things.  Many parishioners will not rest this Christmas until every poor child has a toy and every poor family has a proper meal to celebrate the birth of our Lord.  Many will take communion to the sick on Christmas Day. Others will visit prisons.  Like Joseph and Mary, these are the unlikely heroes of Christmas.  All Joseph and Mary did was say "yes." God took care of the rest. We have to entrust ourselves to Providence and totally trust in Him to accomplish his good work in us.  We too are called to be unlikely heroes in God's marvelous plan. All we have to do is trust Him. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was going over this Bible text with our pre-confirmation class and told our young people that just like Joseph and Mary, each and every one of us was placed by God on this earth to do something extraordinary. One of my more intelligent students made a face and disagreed with me stating that some people are called to be ordinary, regular people and nothing else. I was saddened by such a pessimistic view of life at such a young age but gently reminded her that even she was called by the Lord to do something that nobody else couldn't. Only Mary was called to be the Mother of God.  Only Joseph was called to be the head of the Holy Family.  As we rapidly approach Christmas, we stare at the child in the manger and know full well what he would grow up to be and do for all of us.  Look inside your heart during these last days of Advent and ask the Lord what unlikely, extraordinary task he has in store for you. All you have to do is say yes...his grace will take care of the rest. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jesus is Missing

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7)

This past Friday we started building the Nativity scene that greets parishioners when they walk into our church.  I always chuckle when I hear a child point out that Baby Jesus is missing.  Parents, and sometimes the priest, have to explain to them that we are waiting until Christmas when Jesus is born to put the figure of the Christ Child in the manger.  Some children agree while some don’t buy it because they see a Nativity scene that is incomplete and missing the very reason why it is called a Nativity scene: there’s a newborn child that is supposed to be the center of attention.  The missing Jesus in the manger is a wonderful lesson and image to prepare us during this Advent season.  Since this is a penitential season, we have to realize that Jesus is missing in so many aspects of our lives when he should be the center of our life and, well, our everything.

Today we celebrate Gaudate Sunday or the Sunday of Joy as we rejoice because we are drawing closer to Christmas.  As a priest, I am saddened when I see so many who live joyless lives because they are missing Jesus in their lives.  They think they’re happy when they fill the holes in the hearts with the things of this world, but they’re just fooling themselves because without Jesus Christ there isn’t true and authentic joy in our life.  Every Advent, my associate uses a beautiful prayer and meditation to light the Advent candles as Mass begins.  This morning’s meditation goes to the heart of the necessity of joy in our lives and it reads as follows:  “Today we light the candle of joy.  This should be the one [that reminds us that] joy is all around us—in the children, the lights, the music, the gathering together.  But how often do we let our preparations—or our memories—push joy to the side?  Joy is like an underground spring that wells up within us, but joy is also a choice, an attitude.  Like a muscle, it needs to be exercised.  So today we open ourselves to joy trusting that God has already planted it in us.  All we need to do is give it care and offer it to share.”
Of course God has given us cause for joy. That’s what we are preparing for this Advent because Christ is the cause of our joy!  If joy is missing in your life, it’s probably because Jesus is missing in your life as well just like he is missing from our Advent Nativity scene.  We gaze upon the manger and realize that we need this Child in our lives.  We need the joy the Newborn Christ gives.  So many walk through life like zombies in the darkness with no joy, no soul, all dead inside because sin has consumed them.  This is when we must recognize that this Child, small as he is, is far more powerful than any sin or any darkness that may be consuming us.  Just as a newborn child brings joy to any family, this Newborn Christ Child is the cause of our joy as a Church because he comes to bring light to the darkness and break the chains of sin once and for all.  We must be open to this joy.  As the meditation says, joy is like a muscle that must be exercised, and no matter what personal hardships we may be going through we must choose to be joyful because our Lord is more powerful than any problem we may have.  There’s an old saying that goes something like this:  “Show me the size of your problem and I’ll show you the size of our God.”  We must be a joyful people who walk with Christ wherever we go.  If he is missing from any aspect of our life, we still have 9 shopping days left to search for that missing Jesus who longs to reign in our hearts.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shouting in the Desert

“It was of [John the Baptist] that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” (Matthew 3:3)
There are two central figures that the Church offers us as models to guide us during our Advent journey: John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary.  Today we would normally celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception where we honor Mary for being the one chosen by God and prepared by God to be the mother of the Messiah.  Mary is the mother of Advent as she shows us how to prepare our hearts, as she did, for the coming of Jesus.  We honor Mary because she was chosen by God, conceived without sin, and courageous in her submission to the will of God.
Last night, we celebrated this great feast here in the parish with the traditional Nicaraguan “Gritería” where we literally scream at the top of our lungs the cause of our joy.  People prepare altars for the Blessed Mother all adorned differently and with great fanfare.  They give out small presents to all who come to pray at their altar as a symbol of God’s generosity towards us and towards Mary.  The Almighty has done great things in her and in us, for she is the cause of so much joy. 
After celebrating Mass last night, I went out into our parking lot and blessed the 20 altars that had been erected by our faithful.  Then I donned a cassock and surplice and a white stole and went out into the streets of Sweetwater to bless the altars of the businesses around us and all the altars that were set up along the four blocks that the city had graciously blocked off for this feast.  I walked 8 city blocks and four blocks over from our church and back to greet everyone.  There were people everywhere as over 5,000 people gathered according to this morning’s newspaper.  Entire shopping centers were filled with people singing Marian hymns.  On the streets, people shouted “Long live, Mary!” to one another.  When they saw me approaching with a bottle of holy water in hand to bless the altars, they wanted to be blessed too.  (Thankfully, my DRE had packed an extra bottle that we just kept filling and blessing.) As I was surrounded by all these people, I was reminded of how Pope Francis has consistently told us over the last 9 months that we as priests must leave our churches and  go out into the streets to smell like sheep.  Many were there because of tradition, and they don’t usually go to Mass on Sunday, but they are Catholic and that are my sheep.  This is why I climbed onto the stage the city had built for the event (I’m not kidding: I invited myself up there and addressed the people without being asked), and reminded the people why they were there, why we love Mary, and that the Church was just down the street ready to welcome them with open arms.  I felt like John the Baptist in today’s gospel shouting in the wilderness to return to the Lord and make straight his paths.  It wasn’t so much a calling of the people to repent, but a reminder, an invitation, an embrace, even if it was through the simple gesture of sprinkling holy water, that the Church loves them and hasn’t forgotten about them.  They love Mary and the Church loves them.  From all over, people kept coming up to me to bless their children.  After I blessed each little toddler, I would ask if they were baptized.  Out of the dozens of little children that I blessed, not one parent told me that their child was baptized.  I implored them to come to the Church to baptize their children, and then I quipped to my DRE that next year I was going to bring a big bowl filled with water and just start baptizing kids in the street like the old missionaries used to do (you think I’m kidding?). 
What last night taught me, or reminded me I should say, is that the people of God are thirsty.  We as a Church have to do a better job of satisfying that thirst and indeed going out to where they are.  Those who are lost in the wilderness need to hear our voices and need to hear the cause of our joy.  There are so many people who can come back home to the Church this Christmas if you invite them, if you offer a kind word, or if you remind them of how much God and the Blessed Mother love them.  We are all called to be a John the Baptist and shout in whatever desert we may find ourselves in.  Look to Mary to prepare your hearts for Jesus this Advent season, and look to John the Baptist to help you prepare others to return home to Holy Mother Church this Christmas.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Light Rising From the Darkness

"Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."  (Romans 13:12)

Last night I was sitting in my hotel room on the Jersey side of the Hudson River saying my first Advent prayers.  Just across the river from our hotel proudly stands One World Trade Center or what some call the Freedom Tower. It was lit up with construction lights as it's in still in the process of being completed, but it was impressive nonetheless. Last year I saw half of the skeletal structure, now it is almost complete.  I couldn't help but draw parallels between the Freedom Tower and the season of Advent that we begin today.  There on that sacred ground, unspeakable darkness overshadowed lower Manhattan and our nation for most of the last decade.  Now the tower stands strong, as a testament to the determination and persistence of New Yorkers and all of us as Americans.  That tower is a reminder that evil deeds cannot define us a nation, and that where evil once triumphed, light now shines.  The World Trade Center now shines with all it's buildings around those two hallowed footprints, and soon a proud city and nation will dedicate One World Trade Center as a beacon of freedom, light and hope

As Christians, we begin this Advent season of light and hope longing for Christ in our lives.  As St. Paul tells the Romans, we must cast off all darkness, the darkness of sin, and clothe ourselves with the armor of light. This light is Christ.  We carry with us the hope of his coming.  We set our sights high, as Isaiah says, on the highest mountain.  And God indeed wants us to set our sights high.  Let us cast off excuses to live lives of holiness.  Let us put aside lives of sin and depravity  (St. Paul goes into great detail of what type of sins we must discard in the second reading) and dare to walk in Christ's marvelous light.  Do not be deceived by the allure of sin or by the need to go back to Christ with the same wounds,

This week, when I began to read Pope Francis' new Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), he gives a beautiful message in his seond paragraph that in my eyes is tailor made for Advent:

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. (EG 2)

Do not be afraid to repeat this prayer that the Holy Father gifted us with over and over again during this Advent season.  God doesn't mind how often we seek his forgiveness.  So arise, my brothers and sisters.  Now is the time to return to Christ and set our sights on nothing less than holiness.  Arise, "let us walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:5)" and leave the ash heap of darkness behind.  Do not be afraid.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

100 Thanks (2013)

This is the 10th year that I do this.  As always, great fun.  Happy Thanksgiving.

1.     My family
2.     Genuine silence
3.     Pope Francis
4.     Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
5.     The much needed fruit of patience
6.     That “secret” place I go fishing with my father
7.     My mother's prayers
8.     Running out of the tunnel
9.     Saturday night chocolate chip cookies
10.  “The Joy of the Gospel”
11.  Crowded Masses
12.  Good Friday Processions
13.  Godsons who say yes to God
14.  Giving my godson his First Communion
15.  Saturday morning walks
16.  Phone calls that tell you that your parish's $3 million debt has been paid off
17.  Parish festivals
18.  Bumper cars
19.  Mondays at 6:30pm
20.  Latin Restaurant, aka “El Timbiríchi” or Sweetwater’s version of “Cheers”
21.  Dinner after the last Sunday Mass
22.  Game 6 and Jesus Shuttlesworth
23.  People who get it when I quote “The West Wing” (“Butterball has a hotline? God, I’m sorry, I love my country.”)
24.  People who get it when I quote “Seinfeld” (“The sea was angry that day my friends…”)
25.  “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
26.  “Take this, all of you, and eat of it.”
27.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
28.  “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” (I got to do that one this year!!)
29.  “By the power vested in me by the State of Florida…” (wait a second, I don’t say that.  The bride and groom say the vows. I only receive them, so…) “You have declared your consent before the Church…what God has joined let no man divide.”
30.  “Through this holy anointing…”
31.  “Father, I’m cancer free.”
32.  “Father, I need to go to confession.”
33.  Washing feet
34.  Celebrating the Easter Vigil
35.  Using Pope Francis’ daily homilies as the ultimate homily help
36.  10 minute homilies during daily Mass
37.  People who don’t care when I preach a 10 minute homily during a daily Mass
38.  Friends who build me chapels
39.  No leaks in the roof
40.  Plumbing that works
41.  The bills are all paid (you can tell by the last three that this list belongs to a pastor)
42.  Brother priests who cover for me during away games
43.  Prayers at midfield
44.  A winning locker room
45.  New Orleans with old students
46.  Touring St. Augustine with its bishop (how cool is that?)
47.  Rome and Italy pilgrimage next summer! (Who wants to go?)
48.  New York City
49.  New Yorkers or New Englanders who come home
50.  Silence and solitude on the beach
51.  The view of the Atlantic Ocean from my room during my vacation last summer
52.  The crash of the waves that I could hear from that room
53.  That redfish that keeps eluding me (I need the trifecta!)
54.  October dinners in Jupiter
55.  Visits to certain schools in Broward
56.  Teacher Happy Hours at Duffy’s (one glass of wine…that’s it)
57.  Troops that come home
58.  Phone calls from Fort Collins, Colorado
59.  Trips across the country to rendezvous with said residents of Fort Collins (St. Louis!)
60.  The Cathedral of St. Louis
61.  Students who call me “Father Mans(z)” (Not necessarily my favorite,  kudos to my first students for quoting Austin Powers and using “Fasha” or “Faj”)
62.  Former students who are now teachers
63.  Twitter shout outs
64.  Chumpes Chumpes Chumpes

65.  Wine Rooms!
66.  My yearly week “away” in KB
67.  My mothers on the Key
68.  "My boys" (who don't know how to end a group chat)
69.  "My girls" (are you still wearing your bracelets?)
70.  Bunk Beds for me and the “Bad Priest” (stop calling him that!)
71.  The iBreviary App
72.  Superhero movies (except Man of Steel which I'll pretend never happened)
73.  Seminarians becoming priests (superheroes in their own right)
74.  First Masses and First Blessings
75.  Wisdom of older priests
76.  Not sweating the small stuff (wisdom imparted from #75)
77.  My dedicated staff
78.  Festival volunteers (Total time worked by majority of volunteers: 35 hours over 4 days)
79.  Children Masses
80.  My triplets MTL (who always keep me so very grounded)
81.  My first nephew's mind
82.  My second nephew's delightfully wicked sense of humor
83.  My third nephew's ferocious appetite
84.  My sister's patience
85.  My brother in law's patience (yea, he needs it too)
86.  My brother's charm (he gets it from me)
87.  Friday Family Happy Hours (we've only had one all year!!)
88.  Goonies having babies (Finally! Girls!)
89.  The [blank] Family (Insert your family's name in the blank)
90.  Thanksgiving bags and turkey giveaways
91.  People who feed the hungry before and well after Thanksgiving
92.  Every parish that I have been blessed to serve
93.  Every family that considers me part of their own
94.  Finally witnessing the wedding of a former student (with more to come)
95.  Cool, not cold, weather
96.  Long days doing the Lord's work
97.  The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
98.  The power of the Rosary
99.  The unwavering faith of the people of God which only strengthens my own
100.                  Romans 8:39

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Merciful King

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:42)

When we were baptized, we were consecrated into Christ’s ministry as priest, prophet and king.  Priest so that we can offer up prayers as we are doing now in this Eucharist, prophet so that can always proclaim the truth, and king so that can serve others.  Christ was not a king that lorded over people.  He was a servant-king and a merciful king.  We celebrate his kingship today and are reminded that we are called to serve our brothers and sisters as Christ our King did.

Last week, we had a wonderful family festival here at the parish.  Everyone had a great time, and it allowed us the opportunity to get to know each other through our shared work.  It allowed me as a priest to get to know people in a different way in that joyous atmosphere.  People that I would not normally have a chance to talk to after Mass would come up to me and share their hopes and dreams for our parish, and I had some wonderful conversations.  Yet, and I say this as a full confession, for every wonderful encounter I had with a parishioner or a visitor, there were two or three moments where I was pulled aside in the middle of the work of the festival by someone because they saw a priest and decided that the joyful chaos of a festival was as good a place as any to just unload on the priest.  And that’s fine.  That’s why I’m a priest, but there’s been one individual that’s been on my mind all week.  He was one of those two or three that pulled me aside from work outside to talk to me about something.  He did so on Friday for an extended period of time and when we were done I said, “why don’t we table this until next week because this really isn’t the place?”  It wasn’t an urgent problem.  It wasn’t even a problem at all.  It was just a person that wanted to chat, at length, with a priest.  Fair enough.  On Saturday, this gentleman tried to stop me again to continue our conversation even though I was bustling from one end of the fair to the other.  Then came Sunday…I was behind one of our food booths where we had just finished roasting an entire pig.  It looked delicious, and there was a line of people waiting to be served.  One lady, bless her heart, waited all 7 hours for it to finish roasting.  So I was there with the volunteers slicing the meat with the biggest knife you can possibly imagine in my right hand.  I was chopping up the meat with urgency to feed the waiting patrons when the gentleman crossed the rope line and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Father, I know you’re hungry, but….”  I turned around and faced this poor soul with that big old knife in my right hand and quickly cut him off with a stern and deep, “Not now!”  I went back to work, but briefly peered over my shoulder to see the gentleman leaving the same way he got in.  Never saw him or heard from him again.
This is what has been on my mind this entire week especially in light of today’s gospel.  Sure I can excuse this by saying that there is a time and a place for everything, but that just doesn’t cut it with me when it comes to the possibility of losing a soul.  I could not be bothered, whether I was genuinely busy or not was no excuse.  Christ was quite literally dying on the cross, painfully gasping for every breath when the good thief asked for forgiveness and to simply be remembered by the Lord when he came into his kingdom.  Our dying Lord did one better by promising the blessed thief nothing less than paradise that very day.  What is striking about Christ on the cross is that when he seems so very vulnerable is when he is in fact at his most powerful.  There on the cross he is destroying sin and death.  There on the cross he is making Satan tremble.  There on the cross he is redeeming you and me.  There on the cross is where he received his crown.  Not a crown bedecked by jewels and gold, but a crown of thorns.  Unlike the authorities and soldiers below him, the good thief recognizes that Jesus is King, recognizes the love emanating from that cross.  This is what people must see in us if we are indeed followers of Christ the King to say nothing of what people must and should see in their priests. 

So that is what has been on my mind.  We share in Christ’s kingship which means that at all times we should serve one another with love, with mercy, with compassion and, yes, with a tremendous amount of patience.  Imagine the patience our Lord had with the disciples who couldn’t grasp the simple concepts of the Kingdom of God, and yet our Lord entrusted the Church to them.  On this solemnity of Christ the King, we ask the Lord to help us be true sharers in his kingship because we fall short so many times.  We long to hear the same words that the good thief heard.  Those blessed words that brought him paradise.  That is why this day and every day our prayer must be the same as his:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”


Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Confident Christian

“Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5)

There I was down on one knee at midfield on top of the Dolphins logo.  We had seemingly just won the game in overtime on a safety of all things.  The team needed the win.  As their chaplain, I wanted nothing more than for them to have some joy after four long weeks.  So as soon as the players ran towards the endzone to celebrate, I ran to midfield to pray with the players from both teams as I do after every game, win or lose.  Except that the play was under review by the referees.  Some players and coaches started retreating a bit to the sidelines thinking the refs may declare that the game was not yet over.  With confident faith, I held my position on one knee in the middle of the field of play looking up at the video screens knowing that the correct call was made, but also knowing that what is correct is not always what comes out of the referee’s mouth.  I just wanted my team to win.  So I held my ground.  Some may call it arrogance, but I prefer to call it confidence and little bit a faith that the victory would be upheld.  Many of the players and coaches were looking towards the referee making the signal for safety which is two hands joined as they would be in prayer except you place them over your head.  As I knelt there, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched all these players making this sign of prayer, even if it meant something else.  I don’t know how long the referee reviewed that play, but it was long enough that the confidence I had began to turn to humility and I slowly got up almost resigned to the fact they were going to rule against us.  So I took some steps towards the bench when the referee came out to the field and signaled that the correct call was made and we had won the game.  In video replays, you can see the players rejoicing and off in the distance, a man dressed in black doing a fist pump and dashing to midfield to make his second attempt at a postgame prayer.  Sometimes the Christian needs to be confident.

That is how Christ carried himself.  That is what gave him the authority to tell a sinner like Zaccheus that he would stay at his house that evening.  There was something about Jesus that drew this tax collector to the Lord.  There was something about his persona, his voice, his confidence, in who he was that prompted this sinner to open his house and his heart to Christ.  And once you open your heart to Jesus, things get turned upside down.  Zaccheus receives the Lord into his home and immediately tell Jesus that he would give half his wealth to the poor and repay whomever he extorted 4 times what he stole from them.  That’s conversion!  And part of that conversion was having the confidence to be able to stand up in front of your critics, and there were many in Jericho that day, and tell everyone how much your heart has changed and the actions you’re going to take to demonstrate the love of Christ that now exists in a forgiven sinner’s heart.  Jesus comes to seek the lost souls, prop them up, give them the confidence of the children of God so that they can change the world around them like Zaccheus did that day.  Lost souls are capable of incredible acts of faith and charity when they turn their hearts to Christ.  Today, Jesus is calling you by name asking to abide in your heart so that you may be a confident Christian. 

Because we have been forgiven and because we are children of God, we need to walk with our heads held high and with the confidence of knowing that we have been redeemed and that Christ is always at our side.  People will pick up on this Christian confidence, and they will gravitate towards us as we point them in the direction of our Master, Jesus Christ.  After I said the prayer at midfield, players from both teams graciously thanked me and when I arrived at the victorious locker room, others were thanking me for contributing to the win.  I always tell people that I don’t pray for wins.  I’m just there as a witness of the Church and of Jesus Christ standing confidently on that sideline because we already won: 2000 years ago on the cross.  Which is why I was able to walk off the field last week with my head held high after the crushing defeat in New England because of what a player prayed at midfield:  “Lord, nothing that happened on this field today is greater than what You did for us at Calvary.”  So much depth and truth in that prayer.  Walk confidently my friends, for Christ has redeemed you.