The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Today we find in the readings on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception a peculiar story of Ahaz. Ahaz wasn't a particularly pious king of Judah and in the Book of Kings is known simply as one who "even immolated his child by fire, in accordance with the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites." (16:3) Simply put, he sacrificed his child to a foreign god-idol that promised peace and prosperity. But as if this wasn't bad enough, he also frequently asked for help from Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, instead of relying on God's own armies.
And so we read that the prophet Isaiah tells Ahaz to "remain calm and do not fear; do not let your courage fail", and to "ask for a sign from the Lord, your God" (Is 7:4,11). Isaih is telling Ahaz to turn from his idolatry and pray to God for help. Ahaz, in his defiance, says "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord" (v12), essentially responding that he will not trust God, but rather in his own power and allies, the Assyrians. Further on, Isaiah then responds that in this case, the Assyrians will shave the Israelites, rendering them powerless and in suffering - "on that day a man shall keep alive a young cow or a couple of sheep, and from their abundant yield of milk he shall eat curds; curds and honey shall be the food of all who are left in the land...every place where there were a thousand vines shall become briers and thorns" (v21-23).
What does this mean for us? First of all, in the light of our current crisis, let me say that God, the author of goodness, does not in our time inflict evil on His children. Suffering is a fruit of man's pride and selfishness, and though God can and will save us, He will allow suffering as a refining fire to burn away our own idolatry. Just as Ahaz refused to give up self-control to God and desired instead to trust his idols and powerful allies, we will often choose to refuse God's help and instead rely on our own powers and allies in a time of crisis.
So, what are our idols?
But, even in the face of God's merciful judgement on Earth, we still have to choose to trust in Him and follow His commandment to love our neighbor. We must see the ways in which God is burning away our dependencies and idols so that we may 'burden Him', not trusting in powers and idols, as Ahaz did when Isaiah asked him to trust in the Lord. We must not sacrifice the lives of our at-risk brothers and sisters - the poor, the elderly, and the frail - to the idol of economy and money, as Ahaz did to his own sons in the name of prosperity. We must use this as a time of repentance for all that we worship in place of the Lord God Almighty who is all good and deserving of ALL of our love.
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
by Jason Wilde
“Hey, I noticed y’all’s shirts say you’re Catholic Missionaries…”
Not exactly a quote I get every day, but nonetheless, it helps me get past my fear of encountering a stranger. The stranger was a lone fisherman sitting by his pickup truck on a quiet beach in Louisiana. We had walked his way and briefly chatted about the 30 lb fish that he caught moments earlier and then gave to a nearby family sitting on the beach. His bait now wet again and line taut in the waves, he called us over to tell us that he too was Catholic, that a relative of his was a Jesuit missionary who he thought ‘did some good stuff’, and that he liked seeing us walking around the beach with our kids instead of watching TV or something else.
As we talked, I noticed an interesting looking contraption made out of PVC pipe. As I stared at it sitting by his truck, he began explaining how some guys had once caught an 8 foot Bull Shark while standing next to him, waist deep on the sandbar about 100 feet from shore. This terrified the fisherman as he didn’t like that one of the most aggressive sharks was swimming just feet away. And so, he built this PVC contraption which ended up being something like an air-powered potato gun for frozen squid slugs that he tied to his line and then shot beyond the sandbar from the safety of dry land. It really was a genius solution that would have never come about if he wasn’t placed in such an uncomfortable situation.
“Are you an engineer?”, Jessica asked.
The fisher smiled broadly. “No, I’m a Cajun.”
There are two responses to fear - fight or flight. This man could have wrapped up, sold his tackle, and found another way to live, or he could continue to do what he wanted to do in the face of a trial. But in the end, he did something better - he chose to look at the trial as a way to spark something new and better.
One of our conversion moments came in India when we were also placed in an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation. But instead of saying that we’ll never travel again, we turned to God, and He told us that we should lean in to our fear, traveling for His purposes.
Sometimes God uses these situations to allow us to revisit our life, step back, and turn to Him for a better answer. It gives us the chance to really depend on His wisdom and providence to rescue us, instead of thinking that we are in control and can work our way out of the predicament. As we begin the Easter season and listen to stories of the early Church from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we can really understand the uncertainty and fear that was going through the minds of these poor fishermen. Their Rabbi was crucified for His teachings, and they were next if they were caught. But the Risen Jesus changed all of this - He told them to put away their anxiety and do the opposite of what human reason would have suggested. He told them to go and be courageous. With no leader and no home, they boldly stepped out and God rewarded them with miracles of healing, preaching, and conversion. When they were forced out of the city walls, they didn’t scatter but instead camped out and shared everything they had with each other.
One of the biggest dangers of our modern lives is that it is too easy to depend on ourselves, to place our security in the hands of reason, technology and insurance companies instead of in God’s hands. It becomes impossible to see Him working in our lives, and therefore become closer to Him, when we are constantly looking for the human solution to any insecurity. Our Church is not suffering because of lack of religious freedom but because we have freed ourselves from needing God’s help and therefore have lost our witness of a life truly dependent on Him.
In the end, the fisherman’s solution was an inspiration to us...a witness of sorts...that went beyond his worldly needs. It taught us that we too need to give our fears and our plans to God and allow Him to give us the blueprints that we need in our lives.
The old man stayed all night, sleeping in his truck on the beach with his pole and squid cannon. Then as we watched him pack up his tackle and drive away the next morning, I couldn’t help but remember that St. Peter was a fisherman...
by Jason Wilde
I watched the scenery from the back of Padre Carlos' tiny hatchback on our way to Mass at a distant Puebla on a rainy Sunday morning. As we slid through the muddy back roads, I noticed that the scenery was changing. The rough, unfarmed greenery was slowly turning into flat, grassy ranches lands spotted with cattle and an occasional horse. Another 20 minutes later, Padre pulled his car up to a tiny little store and we made our way to the even tinier chapel perched on a hill on the other side of the road. The locals were just starting to arrive by truck and by foot, and I noticed that the men were relatively well dressed compared to other pueblas that we'd visited. Most had clean blue jeans, boots and cowboy hats; they were clearly ranchers.
The Gospel reading that Sunday was about Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Padre Carlos was a very popular homilist, and he didn't let us down. He started by asking the men standing in the back of the chapel how they called their herds. We listened as each one whistled in his own unique way, and the crowd of about 20 people giggled each time.
"If I could imitate one of you"...(whistling feverishly)..."would I be able to call your cattle?", Padre questioned.
"No!", the cowboys all responded in unison.
"Similarly, then if Jesus is the 'Buen Vaquero', do we listen to His call?" Padre continued.
Everyone laughed and seemed to nod in agreement.
"....or do we also listen to others? Do we listen when strange gods call us - gods of money, drugs, alcohol, gossip, TV, internet...?"
The still silence was deafening.
I keep reflecting back on this homily as we stand on the precipice of another season of lent, trying to decide how we are going to prepare ourselves to receive the Good Shepherd whom we all claim allegiance to. But, we live in a world of gods: gods who are loud and in our faces, gods who all vie for our attention and for our support, gods who want us to follow them, to be like them, to reject all others. And while we might claim to only serve one God, in reality we all struggle with this, and unfortunately, our God is a jealous God. He doesn't like when we listen and follow the calls of those other gods:
Interestingly, when push comes to shove, it seems that the faith claims and institutions of one's political party generally trump those of one's religion.
Lent is a time to remove ourselves from the presence and grasp of those other gods. It is a time to clear away the noise that distracts us from His calling. Usually, this means we must sacrifice something that makes us uncomfortable so that we can feel His healing presence. Every year, I struggle to find 'what I should give up', but in reality, I should be working to free myself from the calls of these gods so that I can hear the angelic whistle of the Good Shepherd.
by Jason Wilde
Fear and safety - they are almost certainly not aligned:
We fear things we cannot control.
So why the huge gap in perceived vs. actual risk? It's completely normal, and it's because humans have irrational fears about things they don't control or trust, and they will overlook risk if given enough benefit.
Driving a car is arguably one of the most dangerous activities you will ever do (because of both the immediate and long-term health risks). But, you don't fear driving because:
So, what happens when we do fear something? Fight or flight - remove the risk or remove our self. And this is exactly why Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Fear is the universal gateway to indecision and indifference or hatred and anger - an unlikely dichotomy that are each the most dangerous of all paths because we risk eternal salvation for our soul by doing nothing or hating everything. But more importantly, fear is most often misguided and destructive and so our indifference and hatred are against the very people who need love.
But even in the best case, fear can only lead to safety...
Fear is to Safety as Greed is to Riches
Safety is an idol, a self-preservation that runs counter to life as a Christian witness. And just as greed is the deadly sin used to obtain riches, fear is the conduit to the worship of safety. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to go out of our bubble and help others. Christ never promised safety or an easy life, but He did promise that "whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for (His) sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25)
The best way to fight fear then is not to take control, but to trust Jesus, the Lord of risk, in your life to control your actions and change your feelings. Allow him to turn your fear into a positive emotion like love or empathy. Loving your enemy is the safest path to salvation.
"Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?
Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:25-26,32)
"My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths." (Pope Francis, 2016 World Youth Day Prayer Vigil)
by Jason, Grace, Brecklyn, and Alex
In this year of mercy, we have been searching for ways to serve God’s people through personal involvement. It’s not that we couldn’t go bring a few boxes of Huggies or Cheerios to the Life Center at our church, it’s that we felt like there was something more we could do...something that would help us feel more in tune with those in need of mercy...to pop our bubble of contentedness and let us change ourselves.
We had been giving out “Mother Teresa bags” to people on the street corners for over a year now. But, it was time to go a step farther. And so, when a coworker asked for donations for hygiene kits for the homeless, I asked how we could help in person. I decided to take Grace, Brecklyn, and Alex with me, with the intent that they would help out with the kits, and hopefully be able to help distribute them in one of the homeless communities in Austin. As this was a pretty daunting undertaking for a Dad and his 3 babies, I’d like to let everyone hear how the kids felt about the entire experience.
I’ll have to admit - I was a little nervous taking the kids to downtown Austin and throwing them right into the community service fire. In fact, as I stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some soap for the kits, my mind was already thinking of ways out. It took a bit of courage to set those thoughts aside and type the address into my GPS.
Preparing the bags
(Grace): We prepared the bags. First, we unwrapped the the multi-packages of soap and shampoo/conditioner and lotion. Then I waited for a while until everybody came in. And then I started filling a few bags by going around the table in circles, picking things up and putting them in the bag. They also had little cards in the bags that told about the importance of water. Then, they said we had to do an assembly line. I started by putting toothpaste in the bags, but then I noticed another person doing the same job, and I saw that Brecklyn and Alex needed help bringing the finished bags to the pile. And so, I did that. There were about 30 people making bags. They worked hard. Half of them had just come from a party in the hall and they saw that there was a need for help, and so they helped.
As we finished up, there was a lull while everyone organized and prayed for growth, strength, and safety. The organizers explained how we needed to stay in groups for safety, and that there would be drug use. My Dad anxiety went crazy at this point. Our kids were the youngest in the group, and something in my mind told me that I just needed to slip out the back and go home. But, I knew this was not God talking...it was my own fear that keeps me from serving God.
Stop 1: ARCH
ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless) is a large facility in downtown Austin that serves as a first services and shelter center for Austin’s homeless. We basically set up shop on the front steps.
(Brecklyn): We gave water to the homeless. And we packaged soap and things that you wash with. We gave the things that we packaged up to the homeless too. It was hot. Very hot. One person had a big brown dog. Whenever someone came toward it, the dog stood up. At the first place there were more people. The homeless people were all sitting there. Their clothes were worn out. We gave them crackers. Most of the time they were talking to other people helping with us. When we gave water, they said “Thank you” and they were happy.
(Grace): After (we) filled the bags, everyone got out of their church clothes and we started giving the homeless the supplies. It made me feel happy that we were doing something, but it also made me sad that they were in such conditions. There was trash everywhere, especially under the bridge. And it was very hot. When we handed the bags to the people, they would say “Thank you”, or “Beautiful”.- Grace
(Alex): My favorite part was the music that we all sang together. Some of the homeless people sang with us. I heard Amazing Grace and If You’re Happy and You Know It. One verse in If You’re Happy was to say Amen. We sang half of the time, and in the spots between songs, we gave water bottles and bags. And I was sad about all of the people.
As the crowd subsided, we were to move to another location down the road - under an overpass bridge, and away from the heavily protected shelter. Once again, my mind was racing - something was telling me that we have seen enough for the kids, and that this was a perfect opportunity to excuse ourselves. But, as we prayed, I was again told by God to stay the course. My prayer was being answered.
Stop 2: Bridge
(Brecklyn): At the second place, we were underneath a bridge. I couldn’t get to most of the homeless people because most of them were near the bridge’s poles and we were in the parking lot under the bridge. I am happy that I helped the people that I could. It wasn’t scary.
(Alex): There were two spots where we went. We went to the homeless shelter, then we went under a bridge. And I noticed that there was this same sign that I saw that said “Tickets may hurt, but crashes kill”. This is the same sign that I see all the time when I go on the bridge to get to the doctor’s office. But I never noticed that there were actually poor people living under that bridge.
I never noticed that there were actually poor people living under that bridge.
As we drove home, I had a hard time speaking to the kids about their experiences. My heart ached for the lives that we had just touched. That there could be such despair and pain just one block over from the famed 6th street, and that we literally drive over these lives every time we pass through - I think Alex pretty much hit the nail on the head. I now realize that it was Satan trying to convince me to leave at just the right opportunities, that I had nearly let fear prevent our kids from seeing and touching these precious lives, just like he did to Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11).
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
We had only been in Beijing for a few hours. Our kids were jet lagged and ready for bed. We stepped off the crowded subway, walked through a lush green park filled with cherry blossoms and into the hutong - a traditional Chinese neighborhood that has, over the past 50 or so years, degraded into poor living conditions for many lower class workers in China’s biggest cities. Weaving through the tight labyrinth of streets that are only wide enough for one car and yet convey a constant stream of various types of motorized traffic zipping by our left shoulders, we were amazed at the multitude of odd jobs that residents of these hutongs would do for what was apparently a poverty income level.
As the day was ending, we became scared. Here we were with our 3 babies (7, 5, and 3 years old at the time), and it was getting dark and cold. This bed & breakfast was elusive for these tired non-Chinese speakers, and we only had a poorly marked map showing about 1 of every 3 alleys in this hutong. The sun set and we started to panic. Were we safe? Did this place exist, or were we swindled? How long before our kids fall apart into one giant tantrum? And then, we noticed a small flashing neon sign at the far end of the street - one that stood out from the otherwise greyness around us, and more importantly, had English words on it matching the name on our map.
Over the next 5 days, we slept, ate and shopped in the hutongs. Our personal space was invaded. People would reach out to touch our kids’ hair and grab them for a picture. If we were in a hurry, we had to tuck the kids’ hair into their jacket to avoid being noticed. In one renovated and particularly trendy alley, we found a counter serving fish pizza in the shape of an ice cream cone. As Jason was taking care of our order, a large crowd of people formed a circle around the kids, taking pictures of them eating their fish pizza cones. We were both physically separated from them, and my heart started to pound. But this was all part of our journey, and it created the exciting stories our kids still share. It was here that we found a vibrance that still sticks in our memories as a characteristic of Beijing.
Sadly, few hutongs still exist as housing in Beijing, since most of the them were torn down and the poor pushed out of the city in the name of commercialization. Because of this, hutong tourism is ‘a thing’ for tourists. I’ll never forget seeing them, on their one hour pedicab hutong tour. The tourists were being carted around, wide-eyed, sipping on juju juice and taking pictures. It was as if they were on a safari and the poor were the antelope.
Why are guided tours and ‘all-inclusive’ vacationing so popular? I’m sure there are many reasons, dating back to when the first guided ‘expeditions’ into wild territory were advertised to the elite and adventurous. Convenience definitely is a factor, and many are willing to outsource planning to save them time. But, even at a more basic level, why does there even need to be a plan? Why can’t we just go out like a freelance adventurer, without a plan or a care in the world?
We’re afraid that without a plan, something will ‘go wrong’. And by ‘go wrong’, I mean, it will make you uncomfortable in some way. We’re afraid that we might get lost, might not see the most picturesque street, can’t order a pad thai from the street vendor, or see something that makes us uncomfortable. We are so afraid of our own instincts that we will even outsource planning to a ‘guided’ or ‘all-inclusive’ service - one which assumes all risk, or at least makes us feel like there isn’t any.
Fear can be a good thing - it is an innate sense that alerts us when something isn’t right. But the time in which we must be fearful of everything new and different is a relic of a time when, in order to survive, we lived in small tribes and villages. In this way, fear also prevents us from experiencing anything new and different - and this severely limits our ability to live a Christian life, one in which Jesus calls us to be the good Samaritan and love all of humanity - even those who are new and different.
Going on ‘resort’ vacations is like dropping a $100 bill in the collection basket and doing nothing else - it gives you the high of feeling like you are doing your part, helping a good cause, and making you feel good. It is the safe thing to do. But, it also deliberately isolates you from the real world, a world in which there are no orderly lines, or well paid attendants, or high fences to protect you from the outside - and protect you from seeing the outside, lest you feel uncomfortable. It allows you to disconnect yourself from that which you are trying to help - real people, and real problems. In fact, many destinations intentionally isolate you from the real world, surrounding you with their synthetic, sanitized version that gives you a feeling of euphoria (and helps loosen your grip on the wallet a little).
Fear is not a Christian attitude (Pope Francis)
In order to overcome evil, we must put ourselves at risk. We must be able to remove fear from the equation not by avoiding it, but by confronting it. If we want to help the poor, we must meet the poor. You can’t serve God in Disney World. Now, you may say "If I help make lunches for the homeless or give to the Food Bank or Goodwill, then aren’t I helping the poor?" Absolutely yes. There always needs to be financial contributors, just as there needs to be resorts for people to disconnect - but these should be an integral part of a well rounded view of the world, one in which you can also be so comfortable with those whom you are helping that you feel connected with them, and only in this state will you truly love and care for your neighbor. It’s not that “It’s a small world” is a bad idea, but it is the absence of reality which makes one think that the only thing we need to solve world hunger, poverty, violence, and inequalities is to smile and sing a annoyingly catchy song (and wave at the tourists floating by).
So, the next time you decide to take some time off, or even have a free weekend, I challenge you to do something that makes you afraid. Instead of calling a taxi at the airport or driving to the park downtown, take a bus or subway. Roll down your window and hand a bottle of water to the man on the street corner. Buy some extra snacks to give to the homeless woman on the way to your hotel. Do your own research and try to cut out a guided tour or two. Let faith guide you to others' lives on your travels. We must open our doors, our fingerprint encoded security gates, and our high walls and allow ourselves to be uncomfortable in order to see the neighbors who really need our help.
By Grace Wilde
Hi, I am Grace. My family and I travel around the world. It is fun to travel. I love to learn about the cultures, the history, the language, and trying new food.
But how did we do this? Weren’t we scared? It is true that we were scared. But we did not let fear overcome us. Fear is like a thorn in the garden. Someone steps in it and it digs deep into one's foot causing them to abandon their job in the garden and let the thorns swallow more. You have to have faith. Faith is like the flowers on the bushes that tell you that with God you can do things that you did not know you could do.
So, before our adventures, we had two cars, we were homeschooled, and three times a year we went on a quick trip domestically. But one day my mom and dad talked about traveling the world.
“It will cost a lot of money” said my Dad.
“We would have to sell our car” said my Mom.
In the end, we had faith that it would be fun and safe. We sold one car and bore our cross as a one car family. Finally, we were on our way with a big adventure in front of us.
We did not let fear overcome us and had faith came as easy as 1-2-3. But, through weeks of prayer and thought we could say “We are going to travel.”
It's the classic insurance salesman pitch. "Follow me and I'll make sure -this- never happens to you!"
Of course it makes sense - a good politician knows that FEAR is one of the basic innate emotions that generates the strongest response - summarized as "fight or flight" - and in many cases can be irrational or uncontrollable. In this way, an insurance agent is always able to increase their base immediately after a disaster, and a politician is able to change the mind of voters who would otherwise not pay attention or follow a competitor.
How does one use FEAR to gather followers? The most straightforward way of course is to promise that this will never happen again...which is highly unlikely and therefore only captures those who are irrationally afraid or anxious. The second, and more devious approach is to turn FEAR into a contrasting emotion - ANGER. "Of course, this only happened because so-and-so did this-and-that." It is easier to attack than defend, and so the one who attacks first will have the upper hand, and now you have the FEAR of your followers replaced with a healthy dose of ANGER to help you out. Once a leader has ANGER involved, it is a short hop to hatred and division (us vs. them) - and then your support to fight back.
Quoting my favorite fiction philosopher - "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."
Now, none of this actually leads to a real solution - one in which we improve our situation and ensure the tragedy doesn't happen again. For this to happen, derivative emotions (feelings) must be invoked. Why? Because while emotions are a physiological response, one which we cannot control, feelings instead are the cognitive response to an emotion. Because they require you to think about your response, these typically produce more well thought out and intelligent results. And, they are harder to involuntarily invoke or manipulate.
Specifically those feelings which are tertiary to FEAR and ANGER - Remorse and Disapproval, followed by Love and Optimism, are those that we should be following in our response to a tragedy.
So I challenge you to ask yourself - has someone used your emotions to support their cause? Are you on the path to the dark side? Or have you been able to shut out the salesman and take the path of a Christian - one in which you feel remorse and disapproval, but are reassured in love and optimism - which leads to a solution in peace?
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.