Christ is The Best Math Teacher Ever…..Seriously.


Many folks look at math as an old enemy, still licking the wounds of distant brushes with word problems and equations that were never fully understood, much less solved. For others, math is a comfortable pair of slippers that bring warm and fuzzy memories of solving problems other students could never even figure out how to start tackling. I probably belonged, and still live, in a third, middle group, where math is a challenge sometimes but a defeated challenge in the end. Actually, I now like algebra much more than I did way back in high school. Perhaps I have finally found the handle of about as much math as I will ever be able to handle, or need, and that is OK by me.

I love putting together things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, and figuring out ways that, in fact, they do have something to say to each other. Such is the case with math and faith for, at first glance, the only connection between a plus sign and a cross is that they look alike and many people tend to pray right before taking math tests.  Accepting the premise that math can be a motivator for prayer, I think that there is a lot more here than meets the eye, or the soul.

For starters, math is about adding and subtracting, and so is Christ’s message to us.  If we add graces and good works to our ledger while subtracting our sinfulness and destructive attitudes, we will be making a very positive investment in our spiritual future.  If, on the other hand, we add sinful behaviors and thoughts and subtract our love and concern for others in the process, we will be on our way toward a result far worse than the most difficult calculus exam ever was.

Christ tells us to subtract what takes us away from God, and add what brings us closer to God, and that is about as simple an equation as any salvation seeker can find. We are taught that, if approached properly, confession subtracts, not only our sins but, as Vinny Flynn tells us in his 7 Secrets of Confession, the root reasons for our sin, which is far more important.  Ultimately, our time, effort, priorities, mind, soul, and life itself are all fixed containers with only so much space. It is up to each of us to choose how we will allocate that space, either by adding or subtracting good works and intentions and, just as importantly, destructive works and intentions.

Christ also teaches us to share our blessings, time, and love with others which, by definition, requires us to divide our emotional, personal, financial, and temporal resources among those we wish to share with.  He promises, and demonstrates, that those who divide what they have out of love will watch Our Lord multiply their efforts many times over.  Is this not what He accomplished with the multiplication of the loaves and fish as well as at The Last Supper. In both cases, Our Lord divided in order to multiply.

I would like to close this mathematical foray into Our Lord’s example with three points. First, speaking of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we are told that Christ asked His followers to search among the people for what food could be obtained. We are also told that thousands of people were present. It is not irrational or unrealistic to assume that, among all of those thousands, at least 10% brought some food of their own, which would mean that around 500, if not more, people had some kind of food available yet, from those hundreds, only one young boy  offered what little he had. Despite the utter selfishness of the situation where many refuse to share and only one does, Our Lord overcame that selfishness of the crowd, and used the boy’s generosity, to fashion a multiplication of blessings for all.

The second closing point to consider goes back to our comparison between a plus sign and the cross which, for all intents and purposes, are roughly the same geometric figure. While most would certainly consider a cross a  most negative shape given the kind of terrible deaths inflicted on them, Our Lord converts what is generally regarded as a negative image or shape into a most  positive shape and image of His ultimate, loving sacrifice for our redemption.This should remind us that it is in precisely the most negative moments that we can find God at our side helping us, should we trust and love Him enough. Lastly, as the above title notes, Christ is truly a great math teacher, able to convert the esoteric and perhaps confusing concepts of math into real life applications of love and God’s power. However, as perfect a math teacher as Our Lord is, there is one place where He is much better at subtracting than adding, and that is in the confessional, where He  waits to subtract our sins and, out of Divine Mercy and love, to stop adding them up.

2015  Gabriel Garnica

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The Ultimate Lemonade


 

                                        

 

We have all heard the expression “making lemonade out of lemons” as an illustration of positive thinking.  Certainly, we need such thinking in this world given the overwhelming assaults from all sides on our psyche, emotions, and, in full order, our faith.  The devil is a cunning, shrewd, and highly intelligent foe, and one of his most powerful weapons is negativity.  We play into his hands when we despair, lose hope, surrender, or simply decide that there is no hope for us.  In such a state, we are more likely to fall into a self-fulfilling paradox of sorts whereby we will simply sin because, on some subconscious level, we wonder what difference it will make if we add a few grains of sand to our desert of sinfulness.

While there are many things to discuss with regard to the role of positive thinking in faith, let us confine ourselves here to one simple point, which is that Christ’s Divine Mercy and God’s love for us provide us with the ultimate lemonade in a sea of lemons.  This reality presents us with three different perspectives which each give us new insight into the power of Divine Mercy and the need of us to embrace that Mercy.

First, we cannot deny that, without such Divine Mercy, we would already be doomed and lost and then, yes, what difference would it make if we sinned yet again for, in truth, we would already be damned by now. Second, that very Divine Mercy is precisely what makes getting up and trying again so wonderful, and so constructive. If, no matter how badly we have strayed, we know that we will start fresh if we are sorry, confess our sins, and try again, then there is always hope, always the chance to save ourselves and, consequently, always a reason to limit or flee from further sin.

The third and most important aspect of all of this, however, is the actual value of our own sinfulness and weakness.  Many of us might be tempted to wish that we would never sin, fall, or drop the ball with regard to our relationship with God. Certainly, many of us may reason, such a state would make our lives and our job of saving our souls so much easier, and perhaps that is true on some level.  However, I suggest that you consider which student appreciates passing a major exam more:  the one who passes it easily with flying colors the first time or, in the contrary, the one who has repeatedly failed that test and finally gets over the top.  Certainly, we know that those who have struggled usually appreciate victory more than those to whom victory comes as easily as breathing.

On an even deeper level, our falls enable our rising; our fumbles enable our recovery; and our sin enables The Almighty to show us His Divine Mercy and forgiveness.  Many folks spend most of their time trying not to sin when, in fact, they should be spending most of that time loving The Almighty with such relentless audacity that sin is trampled as merely a very temporary obstacle on the way to loving God forever in paradise. This is not to minimize the power or danger of sin but, rather, to maximize the power and importance of Divine Mercy.  At the end of the day, we have to love God so much that no sin has the power to make us surrender our drive to love Him forever. We need to stop trying to be perfect and start accepting and embracing our imperfection, asking for forgiveness for that imperfection which offends God, and then continually and relentlessly go about the business of saving our souls and that of others as well.

We must realize that, for all of its destructive power, sin is what enables us to truly appreciate God’s Mercy and Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.  One cannot truly see the light until one has dwelt in the darkness. The irony here is that we cannot fully defeat sin until we embrace it as the contrast that enables us to seek sanctity. Some of our greatest saints were also some of our greatest sinners.  Peter denied Christ three times before he became the rock.  St. Francis was apparently no stranger to great sin before he rose to spiritual greatness.  Christ came to heal the sick, and we cannot experience His healing power until we admit and accept that we are as sick as it gets and move on. So the next time you slip up, as we all do all too often, love your God with such relentless zeal and determination that your fall will be but a very minor and temporary obstruction on your path to eternal salvation for, if that love is true, it will be much easier to admit your sin, ask for forgiveness from it, and move on.

2014, Gabriel Garnica

Do Not Play Prevent Defense with The Devil !


As things are getting interesting in pro football, fans like myself start remembering why we love the game. There is so much strategy, constant action, and consistent excitement in football that, in my opinion, it is a usually a much more interesting viewing experience than say, baseball.  That being said, there is much to learn about life in football-overcoming obstacles, crafting strategies to advance personally and professionally, dealing with and overcoming fumbles and interceptions of our plans, and knowing when to punt, to name just a few.

One of the most fascinating topics in football is the so-called prevent defense, which is basically when a defending team basically pulls back and allows shorter advances in order to prevent huge gains by the opponent, eating up clock time and basically strangling the time remaining for the opponent to catch up.  The legendary football coach and commentator John Madden once said that the only thing the prevent defense prevents is winning, and there is considerable support for this criticism of the ideology behind allowing your opponent to gain on you in a controlled environment and basically hoping that your foe will run out of time to beat  you.

The opposite view of prevent defense, the alternative approach, of course, would be to stay aggressive, keep doing what you have been doing to gain the lead in the first place, and not play “not to lose”. It really comes down to how much you trust in your team’s ability to stifle the opponent while remaining aggressive and playing to win. Yes, you can give up a big play that leads to quick points with a badly timed slip but,  you might also bash your opponent further and romp to victory.

Make no mistake about it, the devil is as shrewd a customer as they come, and he is also very patient and cunning.  He wants us to believe that, regardless of any advantage we may have at any time with God on our side, we might suddenly give up a big play and end up losing our souls and, of course, that is always a possibility. Furthermore, the devil will entice us to play prevent defense, giving him more and more ground in our lives, minds, hearts, and souls under the pretext and illusion that we are somehow preventing much greater and stunning loss if we do not “play it safe”.  We can surely see how this society has slowly allowed and even promoted the erosion of moral responsibility, strict behavior codes, and heightened ethical awareness.  The list of “not so bad” or “comparatively ok” behaviors grows by the day.  Anyone with strict moral codes is declared to be an extremist, fanatical, hateful, judgmental, old-fashioned, dangerous, and even a terrorist.  Simply stated, our society is clamoring for us to play prevent defense with the devil, encouraging us to give ground as we diminish the eternal implications of what we do, feel, believe, and aspire to.  The load of rationalizations, exceptions, loopholes, and twisted notions of mercy grows by the hour.  Before we know it, the devil will be a yard away from putting  us in eternal damnation and we will have never seen it coming until it is too late.

The trick, then, is to stay aggressive with our moral compass, and to maintain our personal moral standards regardless of societal opinions, protests, rationalizations, or mockery.  Yes, we will fumble and be intercepted from time to time because we are weak humans.  True, we might even be thrown for a loss when things do not go as planned.  Definitely, there will come times when we will question our game plan, our chances of success, and even God’s coaching style.  Ultimately, however, we must love and trust God enough to lay it all on the line, to throw our fears and hesitations to the wind, and to go for it with all of our hearts, minds, and souls. The “it” I am referring to is serving and glorifying God by placing the talents He has given us in the loving service of others.

You see, when we play prevent defense with the devil, we are surrendering huge chunks of life real estate to him in a pathetic attempt to barter our salvation under the delusion, and illusion, that he will be appeased with just that, and not try to snatch our eternal souls in the process.  Remember that the devil is the best liar that has ever existed, and that, while he is patient and cunning, he has a relentless desire to seize our souls for all eternity.  Appeasing the devil is a deadly game, and the language of those who have placed more trust in him than in God.

Therefore, put your faith with your attitude is, and trust that God has your back if you will only play believing that He does and stick to His game plan for your salvation.  Regardless of how often you fall, and you will, believe and trust in God enough to keep being aggressive and not play scared. Never surrender any part of your life, or any weakness you may have, to the devil, accepting the notion that you cannot beat him there.  Likewise, do not fall into the slippery slope of accepting seemingly smaller sins as ransom for preventing larger sins for, as is so often the case, small sins only lead to great sins.  Remember that, whether we realize it or not, we as a society and as individuals only measure evil by how far we fall from our current state. In other words, the petty thief will consider grand theft a lesser sin, if a sin at all, than the man who has never stolen anything in his life. Stay vigilant and keep your moral standards high.  Immediately and defiantly get up after  you fall, even when it seems more hypocritical than sincere to do so.

So, I beg of you; do not play prevent defense with the devil, trusting more in his power to influence your life than in God’s ability to lovingly save it. Instead, fight the devil with all of your strength, amend our life as best you can, and trust in God’s Divine Mercy to back you up.  Never surrender an inch of your life to this lying fiend without a fight, regardless of how hopeless at times it may seem to stop his onslaught.  Most of all, accept that we are all weak sinners more likely to fall than to remain upright, and vow to spend your energy fighting through that weakness rather than using it as an excuse to weaken and surrender more.

To extend John Madden’s famous line, the only thing that moral prevent defense prevents is your salvation.

Gabriel Garnica, 2014

Judas, Peter, and Divine Mercy


                   

 

With Lent just past, and the mix of pain and joy which that time serves us, I am reminded of a discussion I have had numerous times with various friends and relatives. Namely, who was guilty of the greater sin,  Judas, or Peter?   Scholars seem to fall on both sides of this debate, with those targeting Judas seeing the ultimate result as their central focus, while those targeting Peter as guilty of the greater sin seemingly focusing on a number of points.  Those who argue that Judas was the guiltier party seem to focus on the fact that, one way or the other, the betrayal of Judas had the more direct impact on Christ’s capture and murder. After all, one can argue, Peter betrayed Jesus after Jesus had been arrested and, clearly, whether or  not Peter denied Christ was not going to have any impact on the fate Jesus had before Him.  The enemies of Christ did not push for His death because Peter denied  him but, rather, regardless of that fact.  Had Peter jumped on a chair and proudly announced that he was, in fact, a follower of Christ and, in fact, the leader of those followers, Jesus would not have been released with a wink and a smirk of “Sorry about that!”.

If the actions of Peter, then, had nothing to do with Christ’s fate that day then, we might ask, did the actions of Judas have much more to do with that result? Surely, it would seem so, at least on the basis that Judas made it much easier for the enemies of Jesus to get their hands on him.  Without Judas, it would likely have been much tougher for these enemies to grab Jesus without causing a riot but, one might consider, it is likely that, sooner or later, one way or the other, they would have ultimately gotten their target, albeit with much more difficulty and far less convenience.  Thus, we can say, Peter’s actions had nothing to do with Christ’s fate and the actions of Judas certainly facilitated and accelerated a fate which would have likely happened sooner or later, given the power and influence of His enemies.  Let us hit Judas with 2 guilt points given that his acts had a more direct impact on the fate of Our Lord.   Guilt Score……Peter 0    Judas 2

As to the motives of the two men, Peter sold out Christ for safety and out of cowardice, while Judas sold Him out out of a mix of greed and confusion, so let’s call that a draw and post the guilt score at  Peter 1   Judas  3.

As to the quantity of the betrayals,  Peter betrayed Christ 3 times and Judas once, so let’s throw those amounts into the mix and call the score   Peter  4   Judas  4.

Both men were followers of Christ who had known him for a long time and  seen His great Holiness and love of others, so let’s call the length of their relationship with Christ a draw and have the score at Peter 5  Judas 5.

As to the centrality and stature of each man among the apostles, there is little doubt that Peter was the leader of the group and, therefore, his actions would have a much  more devastating example and impact on the integrity of the group, given his leadership and example role.   Peter 6   Judas 5.

Now, let us add the fact that Jesus had already placed Peter in a special position and called him the Rock upon which Our Lord would build the Church, so we can argue that, in betraying Christ, Peter was falling much farther from grace than Judas ever did.   Peter 7  Judas 5.

Scripture tells us that both men bitterly regretted what they had done, so let’s call that a draw also.  Peter 8  Judas 6.

Despicable as the actions of Judas were, they were necessary for the plan of Salvation to unfold.  Despite the fact that Scripture notes that it would have been better if Judas had never been born, the fact remains that, detestable as his actions were, they served a purpose in God’s salvation plan.  Despite the fact that, even if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, He would likely have been murdered sooner of later by His foes, the fact remains that Judas served a predestined role in these events.  In brief,  Judas was serving himself and, likewise, God’s ultimate plan.  By contrast, Peter was only serving himself, as his actions had no indirect or external purpose in God’s plan, but only served Peter.   Peter 9  Judas  6.

So, we see, Peter was considerably more guilty than Judas in terms of selling out Christ.  In fact, some would argue that, while betraying someone is despicable in that one is abusing trust, at least the betrayer admits to having established the trust he is abusing.  In other words, the betrayer is  not denying his relationship to the betrayed. Rather, he is abusing that relationship after implying that such a relationship existed on some level.  One might even argue that, in order to be more effective, betrayal needs a closer relationship to work.  Thus, how rarely does one hear of someone betraying a stranger?  No, it seems the very essence of betrayal that one needs to admit to having a close relationship in order to carry out such betrayal in the first place.  Simply put, Judas may have stabbed Jesus in the back but, in order to do so, he had to admit that he had Christ’s back at some point and was close, at some point.

What of Peter?  In denying Christ three times, Peter basically rejected the idea that he even knew Jesus.  What would hurt you more; if someone you knew stabbed you in the back or, conversely, if someone you held as a special leader denied even knowing you in the first place, as if knowing and being associated with you was a curse?  Let’s give Peter 2 guilt points on that one and Judas 1, so that our new score is  Peter 11  Judas 7.

In the near final analysis, by the standards of this world then,  Peter was more guilty than Judas in his actions.  However, this is where Divine Mercy comes in.  Our Lord told Sister Faustina that, the greater the sinner and the sin, the greater the possibility of Divine Mercy in the face of sincere contrition, audacious love, and trusting abandonment to God’s Divine Mercy.  Despite being much more wrong than Judas, Peter drowned his pride and self-interest in a sea of total love and trust, as well as a relentless desire to not be separated  from Our Lord, which happen to be the necessary ingredients for Divine Mercy as outlined by Our Lord to Sister Faustina.

While the numbers used here are only meant for illustrative purposes and, obviously, are in no way meant to be concrete or precise measures of relative guilt, the fact that Divine Mercy wipes out these subjective measures is what matters here.  Ultimately, Peter’s greater sin was wiped out by his infinitely greater love of Christ and total trust and abandonment to Our Lord’s Divine Mercy.  By contrast, Judas remained mired in self, in pride and, worse still, wandered into blasphemy, which many scholars define as thinking that one knows better than God.  On that last point, Judas very clearly thought that he had a clearer grasp of his guilt and opportunity for reconciliation than God did, which led to  his total despair and ultimate surrender to sin with further, conclusive, sin.

With apologies for one more play on subjective measures of guilt:   Peter 11  –  11  Divine Mercy  =   0  as opposed to    Judas = 7 with waiver of that Mercy = 7

At the end of the day, Divine Mercy is about not letting yourself be defined by your sinfulness but, rather, by your total love and trust in God.

Copyright, 2014,   Gabriel Garnica.    All rights reserved.

 

Divine Mercy and Deus Solus


Having just attended the Divine Mercy Sunday gathering at the National Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass., I am filled with the desire to perpetuate this beautiful Gift from Our Lord.  Through His messages and teachings directed to us through St. Faustina, Christ tells us that He loves us, no matter how great our sins, which are dwarfed by His immense Mercy and Love.  Christ wants us to trust fully in this Divine Mercy, so that we may approach Him in sincere, prayerful, and open contrition for our sins, repenting for hurting Him so and asking Him to pour out His mercy upon us and the whole world. A simple way for remembering this message has been suggested as ABC, which I wish to summarize here in relation to Deus solus

A…….Ask for God’s mercy…God wants to pour His infinite mercy upon us, but He wants us to freely ask Him for it by repenting our sins and approaching Him in contrition and thirst for that most beautiful and loving mercy.  Deus solus tells us that God Alone is what matters, that everything begins and ends with Our Lord, and that serving Him should be our only goal. It stands to reason that, if God is everything for me, then I must approach Him in trusting vulnerability, saying “Dear Lord, make of me, of my life, what You will, guide me to serve and glorify only You.”  If we ask God to use us as His tool for salvation according to His Will, then we must by necessity constantly ask Him to pour His Divine Mercy upon us, for this Gift will surely refresh and renew us as we confirm our mission of focused service. Simply put, if God is my beginning, my end, and my purpose, then I must ask Him for His Divine Mercy so that, relieved of the burden of my own weakness and imperfection, I may serve He Who is Perfection Itself.

B……..Be merciful to others…God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others.  He wants us to love and forgive just as He does.  Deus solus tells us that God should be so important in our lives that we become mere instruments of God, tools offered in His service and according to His Will.  Hence, if God is so merciful and loving then, we, as tools and extensions of God, must likewise be merciful and loving.  To the extent that we refuse or are unable to show love and mercy as Our Lord did, we are not serving as instruments of God but rather instruments of our own desires and agenda.

C…….God wants us to completely trust in His love and mercy in order to receive the graces of that mercy. Mistrust of God is at the root of much sin, much distance from Our Lord.  It is the sin of Judas, who did not trust and love Christ enough to believe, much less accept, that Our Lord could and would forgive him if only he asked.  We will not, we cannot, approach God, much less be merciful to others, unless we become like children in the Hands of Our Lord; fully willing, ready, and able to put ourselves fully in His service. Deus solus tells us that God is everything, and that there is simply no other possible path to salvation and ultimate joy than through Him, with Him, serving Him.  Unless I fully trust God, God cannot possibly be Everything for me.  Ultimately, Deus solus can be my life message and the core of my existence precisely because I trust and love Our Lord fully to save me assuming I want to be saved.

Ultimately, without Deus solus I cannot fully embrace and apply God’s mercy in my life. Likewise, without embracing God’s mercy, I cannot pretend to embrace Deus solus.  At the end of the day, Deus solus means Only God Matters because Only God provides the most loving, merciful invitation to our salvation.

Copyright, 2012  Gabriel Garnica