Stronger Than Fear

 

Not many people like prophets. Why? They say it like it is. They disrupt. They shake things up and call you out. Even worse, they put a name to our personal sins and shortcomings, and challenge us to take a deep look inside our hearts so we can change it.

In the Gospel it’s clear that the Israelites were angry because they thought Jesus would bring an easier message. But Jesus challenges His people to look deep inside themselves to figure out what is “enslaving” and “blinding” them.[1] This is why Jesus talks about the widow from Zarephath (mentioned in the gospel) and Naaman the Syrian (mentioned in the 1st reading and the Gospel). Both were outcasts and outsiders who were commonly looked down upon (or even despised) yet both were healed because they humbled themselves before God.

During Lent we are called by Jesus to enter into His suffering, death, and resurrection by looking inward and asking ourselves the painful question: What must die?

What sins, habits, and flaws must die inside of us so that the love of God can transform us into a new person? For if we die with Christ we shall also rise with him (Romans 6:8).

Don’t get me wrong, this is a frightening question but the prophets beg us to be stronger than fear. We know that the only way to get to resurrection is through our own personal suffering and death.  It is the mysterious saving message that Jesus revealed and we need not be afraid because he will be with us through it all.

This lent, may we be stronger than fear, may we look inward and ask ourselves what sins and habits must die, so that we may slowly but surely grow into the new creation that Christ is moving us to become.

STRENGTH FOR THE JOURNEY

For those who are interested in tackling Lent with the support of a community, check outTheLivingPerson.com. Get access to free resources, videos, cool merchandise, and get inspired by hundreds of Catholics who are continually striving to become the best version of themselves. #TheLivingPerson #StrongerThanFear

Is LeBron James Best Player in the World? A New Perspective on Humility

If you havn’t heard, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James was asked about his confidence level after losing one of the most pivotal games of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

“Nah” James replied.

“I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s simple.”

Most people–especially non-Clevelanders–find it arrogant, cocky, and even disrespectful… but I’d like to propose a different perspective.

In my opinion, LeBron James saying he’s the best player in the world isn’t cocky–it’s a reality. In fact, it’s been the consensus for several years. And while it sounds strange, I think it displays a certain type of humility. Allow me to explain.

To be in tune with the human experience is to recognize two profound things: (1) our failures, but even more importantly, (2) our potential for greatness.

THE ART OF HUMILITY:

Coming home from Miami, he’s a different man and his past mistakes no longer define him. He is a leader who is keenly aware of his shortcomings. If you think the games are fun to watch, you need to check out his post-game interviews. He is transparent and specific about his shortcomings and failures–even when he had the best performance on the court. It’s part of what makes him so impressive.

When losing to the Bulls in the playoffs, 92-99, James replied:

“None of us get a pass tonight. We have to be better. I have to be better. I had seven turnovers tonight. Maybe if I had four we don’t put ourselves in that position. I also shot 8 for 25 from the field…. 1 for 7 from the three-point line, and only had one steal. It’s not about [blaming] Kyrie–put it on me.”

Comparatively, James blows a lot of the competition out of the water, yet he still nitpicks his performance. It’s profound to watch one of the best players in the world talk about the ways he must improve for the team and for the city. It reminds me of one of my literature teachers who often said: “The greatest human tragedy is to compare oneself to another.”  It applies to everyone–whether you’re at the top or the bottom. Greatness begins when you break through your own limits–not limits set by someone else.

Like any other “controversial” comment there is a back story that people ignore. For this specific interview, James first acknowledges the greatness in his opponent, Steph Curry. He says, “You have to tip your hat to a guy who can make shots like that… He’s the best shooter in our league.”

And again, James is transparent, discussing the specific reasons why they lost: “We gave up 18 fast-break points, we gave up 15 second-chance points. Steph was obviously special but his ‘threes’ were not the reason we lost.” James insists that the blame be put on him and his team.

As difficult as it may seem, true greatness begins with honest reflection on our faults and failures. If you take a look at the videos above, you’ll see James’ eyes referencing his stats, as he reveals all of his shortcomings. How many of us have a list of stats that reveal the ways we failed to live up to our potential? If not, then maybe we should.

THE COST OF GREATNESS

Moreover, greatness may seem glamorous but it comes with a price. I have a priest friend who always quotes a line from the movie Spider-man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I can’t help but think that for James, basketball is more than a game. It’s the way he expresses his true self, it’s his art-form, and probably most importantly, it’s his responsibility–on many days a very burdensome one. He is a man who knows the weight of his greatness. This isn’t cocky–rather, it’s humbling to know that random kid from Akron, Ohio wakes up every morning with a mission to break through all the obstacles–even if it’s in a sports arena. We can only hope these lessons extend to all other aspects of his life as well.

CONCLUSION TO MY THOUGHTS

I didn’t find LeBron’s comment to be cocky nor arrogant. He was simply acknowledging the reality and the reasons to remain confident until the very end. There is no doubt the weight of his responsibility can be burdensome but that’s the cost of greatness and he’s aware of it. Being the best doesn’t mean you’re invincible but it’s a darn good reason to go into the final game/s with confidence.

Overall, it’s small-minded to force James into box, writing him off as an arrogant baller, especially when there is so much to admire about his leadership.

DON’T BE JEALOUS… BE HUNGRY

Dont be mad…  don’t be jealous. Instead, respect it. Enjoy it. Even better, strive for it. Because the greatness we are witnessing is something we are all capable of achieving–if only we would stop making excuses.

To say the least, I’m impressed by this man’s capability to lead with both humility and confidence at the same time. That my friends is greatness.  …And it’s been a heck of a series to watch.

Sincerely from the greatest city on earth,

Jurell

#‎ALLinCLE‬

Letters to God: 5 Reasons to Keep a Journal

Letters to God: 5 Reasons to Keep a Journal

What a wild ride it’s been with LifeTeen. I know if done my fair share of shout outs to Christina Mead but again…she continues to give me amazing opportunities to spread God’s dream for our world. So again, I express my gratitude to her. Below is an excerpt of my most recent blog on spiritual journaling… click here to read the full article… Scroll down for the podcast…

My first writing professor was a short stocky man who didn’t like religion and wore a Harley Davidson leather jacket to class. Even more so, he was bald with a white goatee and his signature move was honesty. He didn’t believe in sugar-coating life. Honesty was the only thing that made for good writing–even if the truth hurt. Despite all these eccentric quirks, his teachings changed not only my writing, but my life.

One day my professor pulled out a small book from his bag. It had a black cover and the pages looked yellow and worn out. “So… does anyone in here use a journal?” He asked. Not waiting long for our class’ response he mumbled, “Hmm… that’s too bad.”

He continued to explain that his journal was his sanctuary, the place where he found safety and calm. He wrote down all the experiences that inspired him, all his thoughts, and most importantly his struggles. It was the place where he processed the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of life.

“Don’t be fooled.” He warned us, “This isn’t a diary. It’s a secret weapon, a tool for your success… for your happiness.”

Immediately after class I drove to the bookstore and bought my first journal. Ten years and five journals later, you’ll find my own worn-out journal in my backpack. So whats the big hype about journaling? What can it do for you?

Here are five reasons why you should start a journal today.

Scripture as the Remedy

Scripture as the Remedy

Below is an except from my reflections on the fifth week of Lenten Reflections for IgnatianSpirituality.com 

Working as a Catholic youth minister and teacher, it’s often that I find myself numb to the daily prayer that needs to happen throughout the day. On a typical day we pray before, after, and sometimes during the classes and programs I run. Facilitating prayer is a foundational part of my life, and I’ve learned that if I’m not careful, prayer easily becomes another task to endure.

Click here to continue reading…

“I Didn’t Feel Anything”: Searching For Christ After Confirmation

“I Didn’t Feel Anything”: Searching For Christ After Confirmation

Hi friends,

I was blessed enough to have a yet another publication published by LifeTeen.com. Huge shout out to Christina Mead for helping me grow in my writing. Here is an except from the blog… click here to read the entire blog.

I can’t tell you how many times a teen comes to me and says, “I didn’t feel anything… I don’t think it worked.” But trust me when I tell you that the Lord is working with you. God works with every person in a unique and mysterious way. And while I don’t have any answers for why you experienced the things that you did, I believe with my whole heart that God is seeking you. God waits for you and yearns for your broken heart because He has the medicine to heal it.

So what happens if we don’t encounter God in these life-shattering ways? I’m here to give you three simple ways to continue your quest for a meaningful faith life.

The Lenten Sacrifice: How it Can Save Your Life

The Lenten Sacrifice: How it Can Save Your Life

Last year, Pope Francis said, “Lent comes to us as a providential time to change course, to recover the ability to react to the evil that always challenges us.” Indeed, Lent is a time to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”

What, then, does “giving something up,” have to do with the evil in our lives?

The best way for me to describe it is by using Fr. Jim Shafer’s simple method, the “1-1-1 Plan.” I was introduced to it last year at my church and I discovered a profound and deeply relevant way to pray through Lent. Let’s first look at Fr. Shafer’s plan in its entirety and then discuss the significance of the Lenten sacrifice.

STEP ONE: GIVE SOMETHING UP

Giving up something for Lent has been in our tradition for centuries. While it’s tempting to give up chocolate, lose a few pounds, and call it a “good Lent,” it’s not quite what the Church had in mind. Not that your health isn’t important but the Lenten sacrifice plays a more significant role in the process.

STEP TWO: PICK SOMETHING UP

It’s about this time of year that I hear someone say, “I’d rather do something than give something up.” Well, here is the perfect opportunity. Lent is not just about fasting and sacrifice its about also about action. The next step is to add one habit that enhances your relationship with God. Since we are all so busy, Fr. Shafer challenges us to reflect on this carefully. The objective isn’t to create another commitment that drains your energy but to find one that gives you more of it. Pick up a habit that energizes you and keeps your mind straight; pick one that fills you with the Holy Spirit, re-charging you for the rest of the week.

STEP THREE: FOCUS ON ONE SIN

The last and most important step is to pick one sin that is actively working in your life. Pick one sin and name it. Are you always angry? selfish? greedy? Do you turn to certain behaviors to fill the void inside?

When you give sin a name it becomes real. It exists. You know where it lives and you can kick it out the door. This is what Francis means when he speaks of “the evil that is always challenging us.” It sneaks in and destroys like a cancer. It’s unrelenting and it doesn’t discriminate. But if we name it, we can “react” to it, as Francis says.

It’s only when we come face to face with the evil deep within us that we can begin to take our Christian discipleship seriously. Indeed, this is the heart of Lent–turning back to Christ.

RECLAIMING THE LENTEN SACRIFICE

All three steps contribute to the bigger mission of “turning away from sin.” But what can the lenten sacrifice really do for us? Traditionally, we know it can give us a taste of Christ’s sacrifice, a reminder to pray more, or even a sense of gratitude; however, one of the more practical reasons is to simply create a habit of discipline. Discipline is a like a muscle. The more we use it, more resilient we become when evil finds its way into our lives. If we cannot say “no” to a piece of chocolate, how can we say “no” to some of life’s most destructive and seductive temptations?

My college professor often joked around with us, saying, “There’s only way to get rid of a temptation!” Our class thought for a only a second before he said, “…give in!” And even when we do “give in” it finds its way back. It’s a constant battle and if we cannot stand up to the evil in our lives it will find a home in our heart, transforming us into something we never meant to be. “Giving in” is not an option–unless you want to be a slave, a prisoner in your own body.

Our Lenten sacrifice gives us an opportunity to exercise our freedom and will power, building spiritual resiliency and old-fashion discipline. It is, in fact, the most powerful weapon against the strong pull towards sin.

This Lent, I pray that we can take our Lenten sacrifices seriously–myself included. When we do, we will not only find ourselves stronger and more resilient in the face of temptation but we will also discover the full meaning of a Lent that leads to resurrection.

Church and Family

Church and Family

It’s been a blast coming to St. Ed’s and teaching the topic of my dreams: theology. In a world that is so focused on anything but religion, it’s been my passion to reclaim and restore the values, life-lessons, morals, and real-world implications of the beliefs that we all hold.

Instead of writing a blog describing my teaching style, I thought it would be nice for you to experience it for yourself. Below, you will find one of my teaching videos that I’ve created for St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio. In a lot of ways, these video teachings hold the same message that I teach to our St. Ed’s students.

In these videos and in the classroom, I hope that each student discovers our faith to be real, meaningful and compelling. Moreover, I hope to be stay grounded in tradition while opening new doors to faith by utilizing technology, social-media, and film.