Potential Is Overrated

I was chatting with a friend the other day and she nonchalantly said the words “potential is overrated.”  These words struck me.  I have devoted my entire life to a ministry that helps people realize their full potential.  Needless to say my ears perked up.  I needed to know more.

 Apparently she hears the word “potential” a lot.  “That girl is really great, she has a lot of potential;” or “you should give that guy a chance he has a lot of potential.”  Then she observed that most of these people did indeed have potential but all that meant was that they were not being who they could be.  It sounds to me like these people need to have less potential and more actual.

 When you think about it, potential doesn’t really exist.  Its just a thought.  Look at it like this:   I am either a baker or I am not.  I may be studying to become a professional baker, meaning that I am “potentially” a baker, but for today, in this moment, what I am not is a baker.

 This young lady was simply observing something interesting about  christians around her: Do we encourage friendships, relationships, and other facts of life based on potential?  Are you potentially good at your job or are you good at it? Being good at your job is praiseworthy.  Being potentially good at your job is neutral. If we start to praise what is neutral we can get into trouble.  Imagine if you chose your doctor based on their potential to treat illness.  Or even something far less serious, how about a car? Would you shop for a car that has the potential to run?    We want an actual doctor, an actual car, an actual friend, and an actual spouse.

 Don’t get me wrong, we want to see the potential in ourselves and those around us but we can’t stop there. Nor can we base important decisions off of what is not yet in someone or something.  If I choose to date someone based on their potential I have sold them short and myself short.  What I say with my actions is, “right now you are not good enough, one day I hope you will be.”  Doesn’t sound like things are off to a real good start.

 Once I see that I have a potential good (a gift, a talent, a possibility) I do myself and those around me a disservice by not actualizing it.  We are gifts! Our lives were not meant to be potentially lived, but actually lived.   It is only when I actually do something that it becomes real.   If I live a life of potential, I choose to live a life that is not real, a life that does not exist.  The facts are we ARE real, we are flesh and blood, we DO exist and so we need what is actual.

 The call to be Christian is the call to realize our goodness and the goodness in those around us; the God in those around us.  In order to do this it takes courage, risk, and love.  We actually have what it takes.  G.K Chesterton once advised, “reach for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”

 Do you live for what is potential or for what is actual?

 I have to thank my young friend for calling me on to actual holiness.  She was right…

potential is overrated.

ONE

Around the time of Corpus Christi, I cannot help but think of the martyrs who made this feat possible.  Because of their deaths we are free to celebrate, free to worship. This feast is not just focusing on the Eucharist but on Christ’s body!

We are the body of Christ.  Today, many people in that body are undergoing persecutions. Sure no one has ever thrown a rock at me or anything like that. No, the attack has been much more subtle, much more subdued−in the States that is. We cannot exactly pin point the battle ground or even name the attackers. I watch action movies and I’m always in awe of their bravery. However, their attackers are easily named. You know who is good and who is evil. It’s much easier to face the situation when you know what you are up against and who you are facing. The current persecution we are undergoing seems to be much more unseen and quiet. I think the battle ground is in the mind and the heart. It’s hard to look the attackers in the face. And do you know why? I think we are the attackers. We are our own worst persecutors.

 

I truly believe that the greatest threats to the body of Christ are complacency, tolerance, and relativism. What makes these persecutors so aggressive is that you can’t look to Heaven and say, “Father do not hold this sin against them.” Who are the THEM? You cannot see them, touch them, hear them, etc. They live inside us like an infectious disease.  They are the greatest threats to our being One Body in Christ.

 

Complacency is just another word for tolernace that leads us to relativism. Look at it like this: Imagine how boring our favorite movies would be if the protagonists were tolerant. If they said, “well I don’t agree with Loki, Lex or Raz but who am I to… (fill in the blank)” Thor would have allowed the frost giants to take over and Loki would be sitting on the throne, Tony Stark would have died in that cave and there would be no Iron Man, Steve Rogers would be a whimp, Natasha would be a terrorist, Bruce would be a snob, Clark would be a hick, etc. The list goes on and on. Furtermore, I heard Matthew Kelly say, “think about it: we do not have to tolerate what is good. I mean when is the last time you “tolerated” an ice-cream cone?” It’s only when something is not so good that we are told to “tolerate” it. Shouldn’t we be living for what is good? When something is not good, isn’t that when we should not be tolerating it? A complacent mentality leads us to believe that a bad situation is someone elses problem, tolerance tells us that we have to give misguided compassion to that problem. (Emphasis on the word misguided because we need compassion in all situations, it just needs to be rooted in authentic love, which seeks the good of the other). Worn down by complacency and tolerance we learn to adopt a relative perspective that says there is no such thing as a problem.  And that’s a problem.  We are called to be one body in Christ. We are not called to turn a blind eye in a bad situation.  The longer we wait to be the changing force in the world, the sicker the body becomes.  Each of us have our role to play.  St. Paul would say, “we are many parts but one body.”

 

I ask each one of you to spend just a few minutes in silence this week with Jesus in the Eucharist and ask yourselves: In what ways do I persecute myself? Do you throw stones at yourself? Stones of complacency, tolerance, and relativism.  Perhaps you blame weakness? Or fear? Do you tend to look at the world and see problems and think it is someone else’s job to fix? Do you even think about the problems of the world?  If so, what have you done to stop them?  Have you prayed or taken action?

 

I’ve recently been surprised at the lack of support the Christian community has shown Merriam Ibrahim, Pastor Saeed Abedini, and other people like them.   Twice I have posted about Merriam’s cause on my facebook wall. Those posts went largely “unliked” and “unshared”. When I talk to people about her they seem shocked.  My BuzzFeed quizzes get more attention.  The fact is we are afraid to care about people like Merriam and Pastor Saeed. Secertly, complacency, tolerance, and relativism have crept in.

 

Answering the quesitons above is a good starting point. It allows us to help identify the battle. What lies do you listen to? We all have those nagging lies that run through our head, “it’s not my job to…, Who am I to …, etc. I believe we are our own worst persecutors. By failing to live the call to greatness we throw the first stones. It’s time for us Christians to start being Christians! Jesus said that we would do even greater things than He (Jn14:12). Do you believe you can do greater things than Christ? I admit that it’s hard to accept; even more frightening to step into. There will always be fear. There will always be excuses. We were made for more than complacency, tolerance, and relativism. We are Christ’s body! We were made to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

 

I pray on this feast that all of us will come to a deeper understanding of this mystery and be given the courage “to walk worthy in the manner of the call we have received (Ephesians 4:1).”

 

 

I dedicate these words to all men and women who undergo persecution so that I may receive Christ in the Eucharist on a regular basis. I beg forgiveness from those men and women for squandering this gift. Thank you for your sacrifce.

 

May Christ’s Peace be with us all.

 

 

The Stuff of Villains: Part Three

Welcome back!  If you’re just joining us be sure to catch up on part 1 and part 2. Overcoming the whims of Satan isn’t always easy, but admittedly, the solutions themselves aren’t that complicated. Could there be more going on??

PRAYER is the weapon we wield to overcome DECEPTION.

Just like Thor is approached by Loki, Jesus too was approached by  Satan.  We, too, will have moments when we are preyed on by evil.  But what does Christ do?  Satan steps out and whispers, “If you’re the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Christ’s responds by quoting scripture, “Not by bread alone does man live but by every WORD that pours forth from the mouth of God.”  We don’t need eloquent words of our own. We just need THE WORD.  Knowing scripture helps us know the voice of the Father.  In knowing His voice we are able, like Christ, to recognize evil for evil.  Only then are we prepared to combat those temptations.  We cannot be so easily deceived when we are fortified by God’s Word and presence.

FELLOWSHIP is the Weapon We Wield Against ISOLATION.

Being fortified by prayer is primal.  It should always be the first and last love of every Christian.  It defines who we are and how we are.  However, prayer without communion will be empty.  St. Augustine reminds us, “You created us for yourself Oh God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  Who do they rest in?  A Triune God who’s image we bear.  That is what the Father meant when He said, “it is not good that the Man should be alone;” and so He gives us to each.  Just as He is never alone so too are we never alone.  I was not created for myself; rather, I was created to give God glory by serving you.  That means when you are being tempted its my job to extend a hand, to hold you close, to encourage and support you.  Think about it, right after Loki tells Thor that there is no hope, what happens?  His friends show up and what does Lady Siff say?  “YOUR FATHER LIVES.”  Its our job to do the same.  In the words of Pope St. John Paul the Great, “we are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Sometimes we need to be reminded of that, other times we need to do the reminding.  We need each other.

Humility is the Weapon We Wield against Overconfidence.

The greatest trick of the enemy is pride. Its rooted in shame.  Somehow Satan has convinced us that we are unworthy of those around us.  We become so bogged down in our own faults we think that no one could possibly accept us the way we are.  So we push everyone aside and move to do things on our own.  We need one another.  Each persons weakness is an opportunity for another’s strengths.   More importantly, we need to know that we need one another.  That’s what love is.  Vulnerably placing yourself in another’s hands.   Knowing that you are needed and that you need from others.  Loki’s plan in the Avengers is to inflate their pride so that they crumble from the inside.  Each argues about who is greatest and what true greatness looks  like.  Sound familiar?  The apostles argue about the same thing.  Jesus tells them that the child-like are the greatest; and who is more needing than a child?  If we are to overcome Satan we must become like children, humbly needing from those around us.

That’s it! The antidotes to Satan’s poison pills are simple:  Prayer, Fellowship, and humility. Perhaps these are easy enough to type out but brutal to live.

The Problem

A priest friend of mine gives a whole talk on why the Loki’s of the world can be so alluring. He calls this Spiritual Stolkholm Syndrome.  In essence, we begin to protect our sin, we being to protect evil itself. Satan convinces us to sit in our sin. He tells us that it is good. Which makes us feel good. We begin to defend him. It is easier to jump on his band wagon than it is to face our ugly sinful self. In fact he convinces us that there is no such thing as sinfulness and ugliness. I’ve heard many young people say that sin is just a word people use to control others. Sin keeps us from true freedom.   But this lie is so easily debunked. Just, for one second, acknowledge that aching pain that is in your heart. Each of us have it. We know! We know we were meant for more. Someone, somewhere, at some point in our lives came along and hurt us. The very fact that we feel pain is proof that we were made for more. If there was no sin, no wrong, then we would not hurt over others hurting us. What is pain if not the acknowledgment of some sort of wrong?

The solution

Be you! An authenitc you. Perhaps it’s the grind that gets us all in the end.  Sure it’s easy, in my humble opinion, to stand up and be a hero in a moment.  But can we really stand up and be hero’s everyday?  I remember hearing a man say one time, “fighting the battle to end abortion is a losing battle, at the end of the day nothing is going to change.”  It may surprise some of you to know that this same man some 50 years prior liberated a concentration camp.  The daily struggle is our biggest enemy.  I often hear the taunts of the enemy myself.  I have devoted my life to ministry.  Specifically toward helping others see that they are beloved Sons and Daughters of the Father.  Many times a day I hear that voice say things like, “do you think a blog about Loki is going to change anything?  Do you really think one ministry devoted to “God” can do much?  Look around you:  There are thousands of ministries, thousands of people working toward a “greater good” and still the world crumbles and you think you can change it, what hope can there be?”  Literally everyday these thoughts go through my head.  But the tricks of the enemy are also his weaknesses.  We do not have to play his game. Instead I turn to my Lord.  I fall on my knees and with Him I proclaim, “be gone Satan, I shall worship the Lord My God and Him alone shall I serve (Mat 4: 10 paraphrase).”

We return to the beginning.  I began this blog with a quote from Loki:

“…Kneel! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

“Not to men like you.”  I think on some level we want these words of Loki to be a lie.  We want to shout, “NO, I’M FREE!”  But in the end the old man gets it right.  The fact is we were made to kneel;  before one another and ultimately God.  Our natural state was servitude.  Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth as stewards.  They were made complimentary so that each lacked something that the other needed, its the same today.  We do crave subjugation.  We crave to belong to someone in love.  I guess Loki was right, in the end I will always kneel.  The question is, will you?

The Stuff of Villains: Part Two

Welcome Back! This blog is the second of the three-part series. We’re learning how to identify the works of the Evil One in life. If you are just joining click here for part one.

 

We’ve been looking at Loki from Marvel’s Thor in order to better define evil. Last time we explored the similarties between Lucifer and Loki. Basically, both want to rule, both hate their father’s son, and both know they are destined to fail and still choose to do evil anyway.

 

Part Two: Loki’s Playbook

 

Move number 1: Deception: The trick that robs us of peace.

 

Loki is charming and alluring. He rarely exposes his true colors. In the beginning of Marvel’s Thor, Loki secretely allows a small group of Frost Giants to sneak into Asgard in order to ruin his brother’s coronation ceremony.   Naturally, Thor is a bit put off, smashing things and complaining about his loss. Loki steps out from the shadows to greet his brother.

 

 

 

Thor and his companions along with Loki end up marching into enemy territory thereby ending decades of peace and starting a war. Consequently, the All-Father banishes Thor, stripping him of his power and his birthright. For the moment, it looks like Loki has won, and he never really lifted a finger, all he did was whisper.

 

How often do we fall victim to the same blunder? Loki did not make anyone do anything but that’s his play. The greater victory over the chosen ones (you, me, and yes Thor) are getting them to do the evil of their own free will.   How often do we brood over something and hear that voice say, “You’re right! No one treats you right. You are so misunderstood. You deserve better than this. Did God really tell you not to… you know what to do right? …” The seed is planted; we begin to feel sorry for ourselves, restless and uneasy, then we begin to think we know better than the Father, we take matters into our own hands and then what happens? The fall; sin!

 

Think about the Woman in the Garden of Eden. Lucifer does the same thing to her. He plants a seed of doubt against the Father that gives rise to fear and then he convinces her to take matters into her own hands and BOOM! Original sin. He wants you and me to make the same choice he made. He wants to take our peace so that we begin to act defensively, rashly. If we do this contiually, like Loki, we will become consumed by our own seflisheness. In the end, we will choose ourselves over choosing eternity with God in heaven. And remember what Loki told Thor, “satisfaction is not in my nature.” There is no satisfying the selfish heart, it will always want more. The Church tells us that man cannont know himself without giving himself (Gaudium et Spes, paraphrase). The more we know the more we realize that we are LIKE God. The more we realize, just as Thor does, our happiness lies in our ability to give our lives totally.

 

Move number 2: Isolation: The trick that robs us of hope.

 

Loki, like Lucifer, is a big coward.  Sure he has his tricks but facing a whole group of people is not where he “shines.”  It is better to get you by yourself.  He uses those gifts of deception to get you all alone.  Once you feel like no one understands you, no one loves you, or no one cares only then does he strike.

 

 

The truth is Loki knows he’s not capable of taking on Thor in his full majesty. No way! He’s got to knock him down first.  If he can take Thor’s hope then he’s won.   Hope is a powerful thing.  Once we are robbed of our hope what purpose do we have left?!  Lucifer convinces us that there is no more than this life.  No higher power, no evil to be faught.  There is just this life and you have no power over it.  This trick that robs us of our hope leads to despair.  Despairing hearts have caused so much damage in the world.

 

Look around you.  We live in a world that has been robbed of its hope.  We’ve all been hurt so often that we fear to hope.  We do not want to be disappointed.  Directly connected to our hope, we fail to dream.  We fail to reach for what is greater.  This is a diabolical reality in the world we live in.  Satan’s hand is all over it. All because we allowed Lucifer to think we were all alone and unworthy of a great cause.  On world youth day in 2002 JPII told the youth, “Trust Christ because Christ trusts you” If Christ trusts us, who are we not to trust ourselves? Who am I not to hope?  Who am I to think that I am not worthy of a great cause?  My friends we have been born to greatness; and with that comes responsibility.  “We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.” Do not let the enemy convince you otherwise.

 

 

Move number 3: Over Confidence.  The Trick that robs us of love.

 

I also call this move the one-two punch.  The scene in Marvel’s The Avengers between Loki and Agent Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) illustrates this perfectly.

 

 

How many of us are guilty of entertaining the evil one?  How many of us listen to what he has to say?  At first he seems sympathetic almost empathetic.  Then just when she lets her guard down, like a snake, he strikes.  He exposes her weakness, he exploits her shame, he rubs her nose in her sinfulness, which calls into question her goodness and then insults her for playing his game.  It’s almost hard to watch but it was just too real to deny.

There is a line that the evil one uses on me, and many times hook, line, and sinker he reels me in.  Loki says to Natasha, “you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest of sentimentality. This is a child, a prayer. Pathetic!”  Similarly I hear a questioning voice, “Your ministry is one small nothing in thousands.  You think preaching to people no more virtuous than yourself will change anything?  Pathetic!” In these moments I am tempted to doubt my goodness, my mission, my Father’s love.  Last summer  I almost called it quits with ministry. I ,too, was tempted to throw in the towel.  I ,too, sat down and really considered all those things that the devil whispered.  Like Natasha I pulled up a chair and engaged each tempation.  The lies seemed so civil, so righteous, so true.  I could almost hear the evil one snickering in the darkness as I drank in every word.  That’s the one-two punch.  He feeds you a lie and then mocks you for believing it.

You see Natasha thought she could handle Loki on her own.  She thought  she could deal with him.  In her overconfidence she forgot that the only way we can really face the enemy is through love;  and love is never alone.

Next week we will face evil together.  We will take him down move by move.