Not Anonymous Anymore — The Legacy of Marco Lira (Through My Eyes)

image It came in the form of a simple text message from Fernando on October 13th, 2015. I had been prepared well in advance that it could be any day, any hour, any moment. But no matter how prepared you think you are… you are just never fully prepared for when it hits. The text simply said, “It happened.” And I knew immediately. Marco Lira had graduated to the Great Forever, to life in eternity, to take his spot alongside the saints and angels in the presence of Divine Mercy.

Marco’s journey to this point was not overnight. For 39 months, he had remained silent in the hospital. In those early months, I was visiting him weekly, sometimes two or three times within one week. After the first year, I was going once a month to see him. By the third year, I was getting out to visit him roughly once every two or three months. Sometimes, I would go alone. Other times, I would go with friends who missed him and wanted to spend their own time with him. My visits were nothing extraordinary; sometimes, I’d simply let him know I was there near him, and then I’d sit and read a book. I might play him some music, and on other occasions I’d give him full updates on how life was going at the time. I’d always let him know that various friends were sending their love.

When the family asked me if I would give the eulogy, I felt humbled but also inadequate for such a task. I will be completely honest here. I did not know Marco since he was a kid like others had. He and I did not hang out on a daily basis like others did with him. True, I had engaged in several deep conversations with him over the years regarding a number of topics and issues (some personal, some spiritual, some utterly nonsensical), but I knew many others had engaged him in similar conversations as well. I was far from the only one. It helped me tremendously when someone (who will remain anonymous) privately messaged me and said, “You were always such a positive and spiritual influence on Marco. He’d be honored to know you were speaking for him.” That message gave me the confidence I needed.

It is near to impossible to confine to words, whether written or oral, just exactly who Marco Lira is. Anyone who knew him on a personal level can testify to this. To truly know Marco Lira was to know him in person. I remember entering into Cedar Sinai hospital to visit him and a security officer told me, “Whoever this guy is, he must be really special. People are pouring in by the dozens every hour to see him.” I said, “If you knew Marco, you’d understand why.”

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When I was asked to give the eulogy for Marco Lira, I realized that the task for me was to capture who Marco is to all of us who were privileged to know him, in one capacity or another. For years, I talked about two different Marcos. The one who would command audiences with his confidence, passion, and energy; and then the one who commanded hearts with his sweetness, generosity, and vulnerability. But I’ve come to realize these aren’t two different people, it’s still the one and same Marco Lira. He encompassed and reflected all these traits in various shades and at varying degrees of intensity at all times, simultaneously. If that last sentence did not make sense, all I can say is anyone who knew Marco could testify to its accuracy.

I loved getting to know the Marco Lira who commanded audiences and owned the stage. He was a dynamic personality, with a certain attitude that convinced you he was well on his way to taking over the world. He certainly had a larger-than-life personality, and he seemed unbreakable and, as he sang, permanent. This was the Marco I knew from a distance. For a good couple years at least, the most Marco was to me was the lead singer in my brother’s band, a stellar frontman who put maximum energy into his performances. He would not tolerate seeing you merely standing near a stage nodding your head with your arms crossed. He made sure you were front and center, singing out loud, and moving to the music.

I was drawn to this dynamic persona. Marco certainly had an aura about him. It was his confidence which was compelling. A confidence matched with a radiant and magnetic positivity. It was very infectious, to say the least. You left with this sense of just loving life and wanting to live it, and conquer it, to the absolute fullest.

Even more, I loved getting to know Marco offstage. And this was a gradual process. Marco and I were not best friends. Again, he was simply simply the lead singer in my brother’s band, to me. And to him, I was Jon’s big brother. He was always polite and cordial and excited to see me and Carolanne at his shows to support them. But our relationship was essentially nothing more than hellos and goodbyes. It really was not until we asked Marco to sing at our wedding that he and I began having heart-to-heart conversations. I never fully realized just how much it meant to him to be asked to sing our wedding song, especially considering it was an original song he had written.

That night he joked that he could not afford a wedding gift but that he had a gift for me nonetheless. “You’re being upgraded, kid. You’re no longer just Kid, you’re my big brother.” I accepted this gift very warmly. Marco had long been a unique personality to me, and I always loved getting to know unique personalities. Marco was drawn to my knowledge of the Bible, and told me had come from a faith upbringing and wanted to reconnect. Marco had faith in God, but I told him it was even more important to know that God had faith in Marco. I remember Marco went ecstatic over this thought.

Our late night phone calls began shortly after this. Brief, but always powerful. They were simply Marco asking me to pray for him, and asking for a reminder that God loved him. Within a year, I began leading the youth ministry at my local parish church. Marco and I would meet up on occasion, for ice cream or coffee. We would talk about general things with life and music. I remember feeling privileged I was getting to know him on a personal level, mainly because he was such an overall kind and compassionate person who was eager to tap into God’s purpose for his life. Marco had once said he felt privileged to know me and Carolanne because he admired our love for each other and our faith in God. I began seeing glimmers of Marco’s vulnerability during this period, and I grew in my love for him. On stage, or at a party, he was untouchable and unbreakable and center-of-attention. But over ice cream or coffee, he was very soft spoken, humble and gracious, and displayed small open windows of uncertainty as to the purpose of his life.

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I can say that, on a faith foundation, Marco was most drawn to the message that Jesus commanded us to love others as he had loved us. One of his favorite stories was Jesus washing the feet of his disciples the night before he died. I told Marco that the role of foot washer was a very humbling role in Jesus’ day. It was looked down upon, because it was seen as the role of a servant. And het, here we have the King of Kings joyfully choosing to take this role, putting his disciples above him and serving them. Marco was captivated by the God who humbled himself, the God who put the needs of others first, the God who reached out to and lifted the broken. Marco used to joke if I ever opened my own church, he would attend it and lead the music ministry.

Marco and I also loved talking about music, something very passionate to both of us. From The Used to System of a Down to Incubus to Kurupt to Ice Cube to Michael Jackson to Queen to Al Green to Earth Wind & Fire to Santana to the Rolling Stones to John Lennon to Glenn Miller… All I can say is we loved talking about music. These conversations also allowed me a chance to delve into Marco’s mind and heart about his lyrics. I remember an extensive conversation about his thoughts on For Her, Fantastic Day, Characters, What’s A Train, and Clarity. This shall forever remain firmly planted in my heart, because it was an even further insight into his vulnerability, even if we didn’t discuss it explicitly.

A cherished memory of this time was running into Marco at The Wherehouse and a cd had just dropped, a Christmas punk compilation featuring InMemory performing Most Wonderful Time of the Year. His enthusiasm could not be contained. He was ecstatic to see his band on a cd being sold at The Wherehouse, and he let it be known to every person shopping. He must have told at least ten different people to buy his cd because he was singing on it. There was also the time he helped me decorate my wife’s desk late at night for her 21st birthday, and he grabbed a tape recorder and sang Happy Birthday to her, with a note saying “play me” left on top. Another time when we were driving with my brother and he was freestyling nonstop for several minutes about every single thing he was seeing around him.

My brother’s wedding proved to be a turning point for our friendship, because that was the first time Marco and I had a serious talk about a whole host of issues and insecurities he wrestled with. This was the first time he didn’t just give me a glimmer of his vulnerability, but a wide open door. It was odd to me that Marco was worried I would see him differently after this, but if anything, my heart just continued to grow. I loved getting to know Marco in this capacity, because his vulnerability was beautiful to me. It showed me he was just like me, and just like anyone else. All of us have a need and longing for deep unfailing love, acceptance, and purpose. This was the first time I told Marco that his heart would draw multitudes together. Not his music, not his charismatic outward personality, but simply his heart. I also reaffirmed to Marco that love, acceptance, and purpose ultimately find their fulfillment in God.

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Of course, this conversation was powerful and painful for different reasons. Not only did it reveal a lot about Marco to me, but it also revealed a lot about myself to him. Marco was leaning on me to be his support and his rock, but I myself was just as in need of love, acceptance, and purpose as he was. I told him just having a title of “Youth Minister” didn’t change that, just as his title of “Lead Singer of InMemory” didn’t change it for him.

“Do you love me?,” he asked.

“Does God love me?,” he asked.

Aren’t these the very two questions all of us at some point in some capacity begin to ask? Marco had these same questions. And in asking them and seeking honest and sincere answers, I saw that Marco was not much different from anyone else who seeks and searches. Yes, he was untouchable and utterly unique on stage and at parties and in social settings. But behind closed doors, he sought and searched for love, from others and from God. He sought and searched for acceptance, for purpose. And it was this aspect of Marco that I came to love the most. Of course, Marco knew he was loved, by others and by God. The real challenge for him was being able to accept that he was worthy of this love. And as I told him that night and numerous times after, “Marco, you are worthy to be loved.” I think he knew he was worthy to be loved, but every now and then, which of us doesn’t need this reminder? I know I do, I know others do… and Marco did, too.

Unbreakable, untouchable, permanent… Yes, this was Marco Lira.

Vulnerable, sensitive, fragile… Yes, this too was Marco Lira.

The world is filled with many unique personalities, legends in their time. And then you have individuals who transcend even this, people like Marco Lira, who leave an imprint and an impact on the heart in just a mere moment. The world may have not known Marco Lira, but to anyone who had the privilege of knowing him, they meant the world to him.

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There are many words that have been used by many people to attempt to define Marco, both his character and his personality. In so many words, he has been defined with words such as: driven, passion, charismatic, charming, energy, vibrant, exuberant, radiant, positivity, enthusiasm, creative, unique, thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant, artistic, extraordinary, standout, animated, blazing, desire, emotional, inspiration, zealous, brazen, confidence, magnetic, flair, a helpless hopeless romantic, and so on and so on. I think all would agree that three key words would best sum all of this up in regards to who Marco is: heart, soul, and spirit.

Marco had a huge capacity to love and accept other people. It is true to say that he always wanted others to feel welcomed, and to treat them as family. He made it a personal goal to bring smiles to other people, because he placed a huge emphasis on the happiness of others. In a certain sense, Marco loved bragging about his friends and family because he truly desired that they share the spotlight with him. He had no problem telling others in detailed and expressive words and hugs just how much they meant to him.

On the other side of this same coin was a person who was also in constant and tremendous need of love and acceptance as well. Marco did a good job at times of hiding this part of his personality, almost as if putting on a costume. On the stage or among loved ones, it’d be hard to see the brokenness unless you looked very hard and dug deep to extract it out. On rare and selective occasions, Marco would pull back the mask and reveal this about himself. The stage and the spotlight were convenient ways for him to find acceptance, and to feel untouchable. However, in his core, he struggled with believing he was worthy of genuine love himself. He was desperately always in pursuit of being accepted and welcomed by others. I have heard it said that, often, when someone express unending love to someone else and offers them the world, deep inside it is also because they personally need unending love and need to know they are the world to someone else.

With Marco, it is true to say that he believed dogmatically in the philosophy of “give-and-take.” He would demand the absolute best of his own energy and passion and strength to give his all to others who needed him; whether that meant performing with all his soul on a stage, or encouraging a friend to sing (or scream) from their heart, or merely hugging someone tight and whispering to them that they were worthy of love. On the same token, he required, and quite frankly deserved, no less passion and energy from others; whether it was supporting him by seeing him in person on stage or on a late weeknight to the early morning hours, or demanding that he give to the world all that he knew he was capable of with his music and art and love and positivity, or simply hugging him tight and whispering to him (when he needed it) that he was amazing and worthy of great love.

To truly know Marco, you had to know the man himself, to see all these dynamics in play, and to see how they left their imprint and changed the world around you. However, you also had to know two other things: his personal creed, and his greatest love story.

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First, his personal creed. Marco firmly believed dogmatically in the lifestyle of loving others with endless compassion, giving your heart and soul and energy to others in need, and making everyone feel welcomed and accepted. It is very well known that Marco would frequently organize events where music and art could benefit others who were suffering. This is perhaps the greatest testimony to someone who had no desire to benefit from his talent directly, but rather sought to utilize his gifts to benefit others. We call this humility, and it is the beautiful path to holiness.

Marco often took joy in taking the spotlight off him and focusing it towards others. He would do this to me often, when he would introduce me to friends as, “This is the guy who taught me Awesome. He’s a great guy to know, he’s the best! You should know him too, kid.” Marco was human, and like any of us, he was prone to all the range of human emotions. But I have heard numerous stories of people who would go years at a time not seeing Marco, only to run into him somewhere and say he acted like a day hadn’t passed, and that he would greet them with his famous epic smile and, in a heartbeat, the past would be forgotten. To Marco, if you were a friend for even a moment, you were automatically family. And he was aware that no family is perfect, but family is still family, and it always comes first.

I will never forget the number of times Marco would come to me for prayer, and for a simple reminder that God loved him. Too many times to count. And yet, he never took this for granted. When he found out I was going through difficult times in my life, a time in which many friends and family had seemingly given up on me, Marco hugged me tight and whispered, “I’m here for you, kid. Always. I love you.” Marco held no criticisms, no judgments, no pointing fingers. He merely offered me his hugs, his listening ears, and his promise to always be there for me. There are moments in life when an acquaintance becomes a friend, and then there are moments when a friend becomes family. Marco used to fondly refer to me as “his big brother.” I can truly say, without hesitation, Marco is my family.

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You also need to know his greatest love story. If you want to know Marco, you must listen to his music, and to the music which inspired him. His lyrics conveyed a message, they were an insight into his mind and soul. They were the tangible reflection of his spirit. Marco could have been the next great success story with his music, but he had no desire for any of that. His pleasure came from the mere art of making music and performing it, and for others to be moved by hearing it. He would easily light up any stage or any room with his presence, but it only mattered to him if left its footprint inside your heart and soul. If you want to know Marco, you need to know his greatest love story, the art which captured him. And to do that, you need to listen to the music he made.

I will let Marco say it best himself. Here is a sample of the insights he gave to the world from deep within his spirit; a spirit which ached for genuine, unfailing love, a spirit which breathed color into a world of darkness, and a spirit which demanded we give him no less than the screams emanating deep within our own souls.

“I love my heroes, ’cause they’re not famous. This just might be my last chance to let you know my name, before my chances pass away. So lend me your ears, I’ll sing you passion.”

“I’m not satisfied with being anonymous anymore. I’ll make you scream my name. My friends are family, my family comes first.”

“My music’s precious, and art is a blessing.”

“You don’t know me, I’m permanent, and you don’t know the half.”

“I beg for a purpose. Take my hand, we’ll make it through the satisfaction.”

“I’d like to think that I’m someone who’s wings have grown enough to lift him.”

“As you’re leaving, he is screaming just one question. Will you be there to hear my memories? Never forget, always remember when, though time has passed, we’ve found nothing’s different.”

“I scream in every language, sounds the same. So I’m gonna sing this song in color, just to upgrade. Just to get paid? Kid, that’s so lame.”

“I’m gonna maintain integrity, ’cause my purpose is passion, that’s why you love me. That’s why you loathe me, I’d rather stay lonely, only to one day be one of the greatest. Look at this mess mom, I swear that I made this, I’m no longer nameless.”

“No matter what it takes, I’m gonna pull out the stops, and I’m not gonna break. Under these lights, I’m not gonna break. This is my stage, I’m not gonna break.”

“And I know without you this all would be pointless, I’m sure. Loyalty, you say that you’ll follow, don’t apologize. Splitting ourselves open, it’s all we got, you’re in this for blood. And I’ll tell them who you are, if you decide to hide. They’ll witness me daily as I sometimes run behind you.”

“There’s a connection like the continents in ancient times when dinosaurs ruled the world, and now it’s mine, and now it’s yours.”

“I couldn’t do this alone. There’s a bright light, it shines for you and I. This is the last straw, this is my last chance, we keep coming back, it’s not over.”

“If I go down, we all go down.”

“These crowded rooms could never match your face.”

“Don’t leave home. There’s nothing but starving wolves outside. I beg you to take a step back from the door. It’s killing me, doesn’t it hurt? Tell me baby you waited, you’re loyal, you love me, you’ll never let me go.”

“Infatuated with your fashion, it’s my daily routine. To be outside of your glass display. My love, you’re made for me.”

“You can’t leave, I cannot stay. It’s not safe. And they break the front door down, they find me in tears, you hide behind me. Put me in my new white coat, arms crossed my chest, to restrain my desperate heart from screaming your name.”

“I never said I would, I never said I could, I never wanted to do this alone.”

“When we become the center of attention, they listen.”

“I can’t deal with this pressure, I’m stressed out.”

“Paper planes in the rain, I still feel safe. I’m holding onto you, along with two grenades.”

“You’ve got this whole town loving you. This whole town, believing you, leaving you. They cheer at the sound of the chaos within, I cringe at the site of the monster inside.”

“Count me out, I’m not ready to go. I’m not ready to drown.”

“I’ll set ablaze this town.”

“Beware of breaking my heart.”

“Silly of me to think that I could be loved.”

“You can keep our friends because they’re unbelievable.”

“I’ve been dying just to tell you something. I’ve been waiting for so long. You like to tell me that you’re fine without me, you’ll regret it when I’m gone. I pray to God you cannot breathe, or go a single day without the thought of me.”

“I got everything you want, I got everything that you need. Just ask for anything, that’s just me.”

“When a door closes, a window will open. Taught myself to sing, it’s better like that. But you encouraged me to scream.”

“Community… Identity… Stability… We’ll leave behind the most welcomed silence when we’re gone.”

“This is the way I got it down. It’s my notorious way, I won’t stay down.”

“You’re a brave soul, I wouldn’t let me near myself, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Excuses excuses are better than letting me down.”

“I’m sicker than your average, you don’t know my style. Remember we run this town. Can’t hold me back, can’t hold me down.”

“It’s official, I’m helpless, a hopeless romantic.”

“You illuminate every word you speak, your passion is blinding me.”

“I don’t feel like talking at all. I don’t feel like talking so I guess I’ll sing you this song. I hope you’re listening.”

“This fall belongs to both of us. Let me take you to a place where you can scream out loud, all the words to your favorite songs. ‘Cause that’s the least that I can do for how much you love me. And I hope you’ve had the time of your life. Thank you for the memories.”

“Recall the moments, when I’d make you smile just because, and that’s where I’ll be, with my crooked halo above. I’ll trade you halos, when you deserve a lot more. And sing you blue notes, to remind you of before.”

“This is the way that I write history. This is the way that you’ll remember me.”

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I once told Marco that his greatest gift to the world was his heart. He was desperate for affection and the need to belong. Like so many, his greatest fear was loneliness, and being forgotten. At a social event, or up on a stage with a mic in hand, Marco seemed untouchable, as if he owned the world and commanded the hearts of all present. To those who knew him in this capacity, all would agree to the truthfulness of this statement. And yet, off the stage and alone behind closed doors, Marco was a fragile human being, like so many of us. He often told me that without music and without the crowds, he would be a nobody. I told him that he would draw multitudes together, and not just because of his talents and abilities, but primarily because of his heart.

I realized that it was important, if I was going to accurately represent who Marco is, and what his legacy is to this world, then I should turn to the lives he himself impacted. In the past few days, literally hundreds of people have shared who Marco is to them. Here is a very small sample of what people have said.

“Everyone you ever came into contact with, you changed their lives. You made me the person I am today. You taught me strength, confidence, to believe in myself, and to be passionate in everything I do.”

“The world lost a legend. He showed me what love really is. He showed me what family really is, and he never let me back down from music.”

“Marco was an inspiration. He never demanded attention, but became the main focus when he walked in a room. He was genuine, he was a legend.”

“When I think of Marco, I just cant sum him up with one word. He had such charisma, an undeniable passion, something that drew people to him. It was this massive energy for life that he possessed.”

“He was an angel. His senior project was a benefit concert in honor of my son who was diagnosed with leukemia. A complete stranger who hears about our crisis and decided to raise money to help my family”

“An amazing person, a great friend, and the example of how humans should treat other humans. He inspired me, and everyone around him, to be great. A shining light on this dark planet.”

“A brother to me. He knew how to command a crowd and he always put everything he had into his performances. He taught me how to be confident and how to dream beyond the little bubble around me. Without Marco, all this would be pointless.”

“Everyone you met felt like they were your best friend. Your passion for friendships is something I respect immensely about you and will forever carry with me in my heart.”

“You entered my life and changed it for the better.”

“You have always been larger than life. You shined so bright, everyone felt it.”

“I never met a more gracious and caring person.”

“Your passion will always ignite a flame within me. Gorgeous soul, amazing smile, insane vocals, you’re a gem.”

“Knowing you made my life better.”

“My friend, my brother, my hero, my angel.”

“You were always ahead of your time. We were all just a few steps behind you because of your beautiful gift of ambition and passion for making people feel good. You’re the warmest person I have ever known and I always felt so welcomed when I was with you.”

“Marco was a talented, caring, compassionate, motivating, inspiring, uplifting, charismatic, funny, outgoing, easy to get along with, positive, open-minded, creative, influential, dynamic, smart, down to earth, artistic, blessed and beautiful soul.”

Perhaps, Marco is best summed up with these three simple words:

“No one better.”

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In a very real sense, it is true to say that Marco did command hearts, and drew them together. Because as long as we keep that spark alive in our souls, that undeniable spark which set ablaze the world around him, then Marco’s spirit will truly live on forever. It was undeniable to see the legacy he left behind when I attended his vigil service and then his funeral Mass. He used to sell out clubs, but even at his services, as one person said, it was standing room only, with people pouring in by the minute and filtering out even into the parking lot.

In the end, none of our lives belong to ourselves ultimately, or even to our loved ones, or the people around us. Our hearts are restless until they rest in the hands of Divine Mercy. Marco never belonged ultimately to us to hold onto and not let go. Like all our lives, his was a sheer gift of grace from the God who created him, redeemed him, loved him, and called him to Himself. Marco belongs to God, and if our faith has taught us anything, or given us any certainty on anything, it is that we have not seen the last of Marco Lira. For, he was among us for a time on this earth, and now by God’s grace is among the angels, and no doubt entertaining them. And soon, one day, we will be reunited on that glorious day.

In death, it is a pious thought to pray for the souls of those who have graduated from this life, in the event they are being prepared for the Great Wedding Feast we call heaven. Therefore, we offer prayers for him, knowing that Marco could never be outdone in generosity to anyone, and especially even more so after this temporary life in eternity. If our prayers of any benefit to him, he in turn will never cease to pray for us once he enters the Feast. And it is also a pious thought to remember that death no longer has the final say, for it has been swallowed up in the victory of the Resurrection. The Cross is where Jesus destroyed death, and the Resurrection is where he restored us to new life. Thus, we can say with moral certitude, that death is not “goodbye,” but rather, “Goodbye for now, my friend. I will see you very soon.”

When I gave my eulogy for Marco on 10/19/2015, one day before what would have been his 33rd birthday, I recalled a particular memory that, by now, many are familiar with. Marco always identified me as his “spiritual guide” or “spiritual advisor” or “spiritual director.” Truth be told, he came to me numerous times over the years (normally through a phone call or simple text message) asking me to pray for him, or to remind him of his worth in the eyes of God and in my own heart. Sometimes, our conversations would last no more than a few seconds. He would call and say, “Hey kid, it’s Marco. Can you remind me who I am?” And I would simply say, “You’re Marco Lira: adopted child of God, redeemed and loved intensely by God, worthy of amazing love.” He’d say, “Thanks brother, please keep praying for me. Let’s catch up soon over coffee, sound good? I’ll hit you up soon.” He’d hang up, and weeks or months might go by. This, often, was the extent of my relationship with him. On rare occasions, we’d meet up and talk more in depth about these fundamental truths and concepts. But the norms were these quick late night calls and reminders.

This persisted for years. I was always trying to make sure I was available to him when he needed me, and how he needed me. There was just as many times where I would try to call or text him, and I would never hear a response… at least not immediately. The response might come days or even weeks later. Either way, it was always important for me to let Marco know that I was available to him whenever and however he needed me to be.

And then came the time when Marco called me and said it was important we meet for coffee, and I just so happened to be going through a horrible depression for some time. It will always remain with me that, little did I know, Marco had called me because he knew I needed someone to be there for me. I just wasn’t prepared to show up, only to have Marco embrace me tight and whisper in my ear that he loved me, and was there for me. That was a moment I will never, ever forget as long as I live. It spoke volumes to me about Marco. As many others have said, it really mattered to him to know that the people he loved were doing okay, and for them to know that he was there for them. I am indebted to him for that memory.

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There are countless little memories involving Marco that I will always hold and treasure in my heart, but this particular encounter is one I always want the world to hear. It demonstrates, to me, exactly who Marco was to the world around him, and exactly who we were to him. He held our hearts within his heart. You could never outdo Marco in his generosity. He demanded you give him all of your love and loyalty, because this is what he demanded of himself to you in return.

There are several lessons I have learned from reflecting overall on Marco’s life, and I am sure I will think of more as life continues and I delve more into memories. But here are some of the ones I have reflected on in recent days from conversations with his family, and his family of friends.

Marco did not live in the past, he was very much in the Present Moment, and he was always tuned into the relevance of tomorrow. On one end, I have heard so many stories of people who would go years without talking to Marco, only to run into him and it was as if a day had not passed. Marco was not concerned with how long it had been since you and him last talked. He was more concerned that you were in his life in this very moment, and he knew it was important to make the most of that moment. On another end, I remember once asking Marco if he ever missed his old bands or old music. But to Marco, if it occurred yesterday, it was already old history. He was more concerned with what he was involved with in the present day. I would go on and on about how Drinking & Dialing could have been his ticket to stardom, and yet it was already old news to him. It reflected where he was at the time he wrote and recorded and performed it, and for him, that was “way back then, a different time of my life.” He was already focused on his current projects, and always kept an eye on what tomorrow might bring. In this sense, he always seemed to be a step ahead, never dwelling on the past, and very much enamored with the sacrament of the Present Moment.

Marco put the spotlight on others, and amplified them personally, making you feel Extraordinary and Important even if you did not see it yourself. During the eulogy, I spoke of how I would always introduce myself in Marco’s social circles as “Jon Moreaux’s brother.” Since my brother was the guitarist for InMemory at a certain point, I figured this was an easy way for people to quickly form an identification in their minds as to how to place me. But Marco would never stand for this. We once ran into him at a concert for my brother’s then-current band The Material, and Marco was taking me around and introducing me to everyone around us. To the first guy, I said, “I’m Joe, Jon Moreaux’s brother.” Marco looked at me with shock and was adamant: “Kid, this is the one and only Joseph Moreaux, the guy who taught me Awesome, the guy who teaches me about God. I sang at his wedding! He always tells me I’ll do great things for God because of my heart! This guy is the best guy I know! Him and his wife and his brother, they’re the most amazing people in this world! You should get to know them!” I remember thinking Marco was overhyping me a bit, until I realized this is truly who we were in his eyes. Marco saw something great in me even if I didn’t see it myself. He made me feel more important than I thought I really was. This is a reflection of how Marco treated and saw all his friends and family. He always spoke highly of them and hyped them up, always.

Marco placed heavy emphasis on Loyalty from his friends and family, but did so only because he demanded this absolutely out of himself. We’ve all heard “Do Unto Others…” Marco subconsciously lived and breathed this. There were times he might need you to spend time with him and not leave his side for a length of time. He took loyalty very seriously from others. Even if it could be exhausting at times, Marco demanded you tolerate the exhaustion. The only reason Marco could demand this from others is because it is precisely what he gave to them himself. He always gave you 110% of his love, energy, passion, drive, concern. Marco knew he was not perfect, and he knew he was capable of hurting others and letting them down, and they were capable of the same things. But time would heal wounds, and for him, if he had moved on and forgiven himself or yourself, he expected you to do the same.

Marco feared loneliness, but always found solace and comfort and identity and stability in the context of Community. If there is one true thing that Marco feared, it was being alone. This is a common fear for many of us, because we were created to love and to be loved. Alone, Marco was not exactly sure who he was or what his purpose consisted of. But in the context of others, whether it be one on one with a friend, or surrounded by people socially, Marco found his comfortability, and could shine. Much of my personal ministry to him was helping him understand he had worth and purpose even when had no one around him. But even so, his life taught me the importance of using your life and talents and gifts to be a blessing to others, and that our primary purpose is discovered within the context of living for others. Alone, Marco felt like a fish out of water. But surrounded by people he loved, or even strangers, Marco was in his element of drawing attention for the sake of giving attention to those around him. We were all created to love and to be loved. We were never intended to be in isolation. Marco knew this, and maximized it. If Marco was in a room with people he didn’t know, all this said to him was he needed to introduce himself and meet new people, so as to transform them from “unknown strangers” to “family and friends.” To him, enlarging your circle of family and friends only meant good things, positive things. It meant more people to enjoy life with, and share moments and memories with.

Marco was never concerned with how his talents might benefit him financially, but primarily was concerned with simply knowing how his talents impacted you personally. For the life of me, I always struggled with comprehending why Marco didn’t have a stronger business sense with the music and art he created. Even long after InMemory, Marco was making epic music with various different groups, from BOOM to Sound Archives to Dream Syndicate to various hip hop formations. I always thought everything he touched musically turned to gold. It was simply one of his God-given gifts. I used to tell him if he just focused on one particular group and really kept serious, he could make it easily to the next level. I remember one conversation over coffee where I was telling him this, and he just smiled and said, “You should hear the stuff I’m recording right now. You’d love it.” And then he would play me a clip from his phone, and with unbridled enthusiasm would want to hear my honest thoughts. He seemed uninterested in how his music or art would benefit him personally. He was much interested by how it moved me personally, and how it spoke to others. He truly loved creating music just for the sake of creating it, and purely for the sake of knowing others were listening to it and being impacted. This is literally the only thing that mattered to him.

I once read these words, and they have always moved me and served as a much needed reminder: “It is a facet of our nature that we think and act as if we are going to live forever. Consequently, we do not pay enough attention to the people we love, who are here beside us. In our conversations with them, we are often distracted by other things going on in our lives, so that we do not hear fully what they are saying, or we cut the conversation short in order to get on with our own business. Or we let our own frustrations and agendas get in the way of hearing what they are saying. But when they are gone, we would give anything to have them back to continue the conversation. Any conversation. For even one minute more… Life and death are an instruction to appreciate what we have before it is gone… After a loved one dies, pay attention to the ways the relationship continues.”

Pay attention, because even though Marco’s spirit will live on in our hearts and thoughts and memories, he will also live on in the Great Forever, and will be more alive now than ever before. In fact, death to this life is just waking up from a dream, to a whole new life just barely beginning for him. Heroes and Villains get remembered, but legends never die. And Marco Lira transcends being a Hero and a Villain. He even transcends being called a Legend. I am not sure what term best describes him. He was simply Marco Lira, a man who made sure his mark was known in the world he left behind.

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Marco set the bar very high for all of us who remain here. To conclude, this text was sent to me shortly after his funeral Mass by a mutual friend. I think it best sums up who Marco Lira was, who we were to him, what he came to teach us, and what we now are called to do:

“I just received a text from another one of my good friends and it was during the Mass. The text read, ‘Yo man, I really need a friend right now, I’m gonna call you soon.’ I broke down and cried, because that is Marco’s message to me. I can text my friend back and help him, because it’s what I should do as a person, but it’s Marco telling me: You’re up kid! Help out your loved ones.’”

This is what Marco came to teach us, and he set the bar high. Live in the beauty of the Present Moment, let go of past hurts and be quick to forgive, lean on the strength of others during difficult moments, and be available to them during their own difficult moments. Enjoy every second of breath that God gives you, and utilize it to the absolute max. Be vulnerable, inspire others, give the best of yourself and your time and your talents to all around you, and demand nothing less from them in return. Above all, go all out in your love for others, and accept the unmerited love that God wishes to shower down on us.

Love others, and be loved. Marco showed us this in a very real way. Through tears and smiles and lyrics and emotions. He never wasted the emphasis of a raw emotion. His heart drew multitudes and will continue to draw them. What remains now is our response to the life he showed us. “You’re up kid! Help out your loved ones!”

No one better… Not Anonymous Anymore. I love you, Marco. Thank you for everything. I look forward to seeing you again.

Kisses…

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“When all is said and done, what will the story show? What story will I have written?”

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I was once told that when you look at a baby picture of yourself, it should serve as a reminder of the innocence and purity we are all born with, the way God conceived us in love and created us. As we get older, life has a way of being messy. So often, we see life as a battle, one we are fighting with all the strength and courage we can muster. At times, we want to just give up, because life has a tendency to punch hard. Apathy can haunt us, as we rethink in our minds the life we could’ve had, given different circumstances or choices.

Baby pictures are a tricky thing for me, because so often I see the little face looking back at me, and I want to go back to a place in time when life was still very much an open book largely unwritten, with blank pages anxiously awaiting stories and memories that could be whatever we had chosen them to be. However, the older we get, we inevitably begin to realize that many pages, indeed whole chapters, have already been written. We wrote them, and many of them we are unhappy with. We desperately beg for a do-over. We want to go back and rewrite whole paragraphs, but we are unable to do so. We are left with the story we have written, as it is, in the current moment.

I look at my baby pictures and see such a precious little face eagerly waiting to leave his mark in this crazy world. I imagine the canvas I thought I would paint as I got older, only now to be too focused on areas of the canvas where I splattered black paint when I wish I had brushed blue or green. The reality is I have many blessings in my life right now, as all of us do. Somehow, in some way, the paths I have chosen to traverse have led me to this point in time in my life. Tomorrow’s paths have yet to be traveled. And those chapters can still be whatever I want them to be. The decision as to where I go from here is entirely my own, as it has been from day one. I can not rewrite chapters of my life that have already been written. And in some mystical way, I am presently writing the current chapter. And where the story goes, remains to be seen.

I have been given this one unique life to live. It began in the face of this baby picture. When all is said and done, what will the story show? What story will I have written? What will the story reveal about its main character and hero, namely me? One day God will call me to my eternal home, and this story will have its final chapter. And in the end, whatever was written, it was my own self that decided to write it. I just hope I gave the world one heck of an epic adventure to reflect on. And I hope the characters closest to me, beginning with my heroine Carolanne, will have read, witnessed, and lived a story that will stay in their hearts forever, and will inspire the altering of their own paths in beautiful ways. This is my story I am living, and for better or worse, it has been what it has been. I hope I give the world an unforgettable climax.

Golden Calves in the Modern Day: False Gods of Our Own Imagination

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Several years ago, I was having coffee with a friend of mine. He had asked to meet up with me because of issues he was going through in his life at the time. During the course of our conversation, he had said to me, “I don’t know, Joe. Sometimes it just seriously feels like God has forgotten all about me. Like he loves everyone but me. I feel like I don’t even exist to him.” As the conversation progressed, he began to become much more dogmatic and certain in his allegations. “God doesn’t even have a clue about how much I go through. He doesn’t care at all about me. One day, when I meet him, I am going to bring him to his knees, and then he’ll know what it’s like to be alone.”

My initial question was: “So where are you getting this information about God from in the Bible? I personally do not see it there. I see a much different God described rather than the one you are talking about. So please show me which passage I am overlooking.”

He responded, “Well, I know it doesn’t say that in the Bible, but…”

“So then is this information about God from another religion or holy book? Was it revealed personally to you?”

“Well, no… But it’s just how I feel.”

“So then, you’re just referring to your feelings?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Okay, but you say you’re a Christian, so that would mean you accept the God that Jesus revealed, right? I mean, you believe that he is the true God. But that seems contradictory because Jesus didn’t talk about a God who forgets us and doesn’t care about us. So do you trust your feelings, which are at times flawed and imperfect and fallible and irrational, over the revelation given to us by Jesus himself? I think it’d make much more sense to trust Jesus than my own feeble emotions, wouldn’t you?”

“I know what you’re saying Joe, but you don’t get it. It doesn’t change how I feel. I still feel like God has forgotten about me.”

“Does God love the rest of the world, except you?”

“Yes, that’s how it feels, sometimes.”

“So then this god you’re talking about is a god utterly unique to your imagination, based on your feelings alone?”

“Uh…. Um…. I mean, I guess so. Hadn’t really thought about it that way before.”

“So should the rest of the world, including myself and the Pope and the dying kids of Africa also believe in this new god that you invented who loves everyone except you?”

“No….. I know what you’re saying.”

“What am I saying? Tell me.”

“You’re saying Mind and Logic over emotions.”

“I am saying, don’t allow emotions to rule your thinking, so much so that you’re inventing false and fabricated gods in your imagination that don’t exist. I mean, do you realize how self-absorbed it is to say God only chooses to not love you alone, as if you’re the one special unique case singled out from all of heaven, while thousands are dying daily from disease and starvation, and yet still believing in a God who is Love?”

“Never really thought of it from the angle, I guess. So what do I do then with this depression which consumes me?”

“You get to the root and source of the depression, and most likely it will trace back to people, sinful and fallible people. Or it will trace back to mistakes you made yourself. And then you choose to walk beyond it with strength and courage and forgiveness. But you don’t take the hardships of life caused by others or yourself and then invent new gods in your imagination because of it.”

The truth is, we are all emotional creatures. The above conversation was a real one, but if I am going to be bluntly honest myself, even I have found myself in the other position at times as well. All of us have, to some degree or another. We blame God for the hardships of life caused by ourselves or by others, and we get angry with this God and then start to lose trust in his revelation of love, and in so doing begin to craft fabricated gods who don’t even exist, except in our own imagination. And we will trust our imagination over the words and actions of Jesus who contradicted such notions by revealing a God who knows us by name and weeps with us in our sorrows and rejoices with us in our victories and who suffers for us and who gives us our next breath and who has created us with eternity in mind and who has personally redeemed each of us individually.

Emotions can be very, very powerful. However, they are not the be all and end all of dogma. They are just emotions, and they change as quickly as the wind passes outside. The words of Jesus certainly hold infinitely more weight than our feeble emotions. So why do we allow to trust our emotions over against the words of Christ, at times? Why do we unintentionally choose to turn Jesus into a liar and ourselves into prophets of false and imaginary gods that we create out of thin air?

We may change, but God remains unchangeable. We may become weak, but God remains strong. We may flee and hide, but God remains forever in pursuit of our hearts. People may fail us, we may fail people, but God’s love never fails. No matter how much stock you want to put in your emotions which may tell you otherwise, choose to believe that perhaps your emotions are misdirected, and choose to trust in the God who says he holds us in the palm of his hand.

I know some people who only cling to God when things are going good in life. As soon as hardship hits, caused by their own selves or by others, they blame God, they run and hide from him, and then they create new gods to suit their own emotions….. Until things get better again. Then they love the God that Jesus revealed.

I know some people who only cling to God when things are difficult. They beg for his mercy, his providence, his miracles. They go to their local church with great frequency, they read Sacred Scripture fervently, they give some change to a homeless person thinking this will gain more divine favor, they pray and they pray and they pray. And then when things turn around for them, they just as quickly forget the God who was carrying them though the whole ordeal.

In both circumstances, God’s love fails neither individual. And yes, I am not exempt from either scenario, for I myself have ventured in both directions at different seasons in my life, too.

Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt to the desert. In Egypt, they were slaves. In the desert, they were free, but they were scared, and they also were being purged and pruned and molded and sharpened to be the people God needed them to be for the world. If you ever find yourself in a spiritual desert, most likely this is what God is up to. Because we do need to be pruned to be released from our attachment to pride and vanity so that we can be the instruments of peace that the entire world is desperately in need of.

Moses went up a mountain to converse with God privately, and after some time, as the days continued to pass, the people began to grumble and complain, and they concluded that Moses’ God had forgotten about them. This was the same God who used miracles to free them from slavery just weeks prior. This was the same God who had spoken to their ancestors like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph in preceding generations. But this is the power of emotions, when we allow them control over reason. We become very short sighted, and our memory fades quickly. Suddenly, we are rejecting the true God who has worked miracles in our life, and in lieu of that we are imagining new false gods who do not exist. False gods who allegedly forget about us and don’t care about us. The people ended up making a god out of gold. In other words, they built a statue and decided it was their almighty god.

Today, we might be tempted to laugh at such a story. I mean, seriously?! God had just worked all these amazing miracles and rescued them just weeks before, and now they don’t hear from him for a few days and all of a sudden they are building a calf statue. But don’t we all do similar things today? We may not build a calf out of gold, but we certainly create gods who don’t care about us. They are the golden calves of our imaginations.

God knows you by name… God created you, redeemed you, and guides you this very moment. This is the ever constant reality, no matter what your emotions feel. Choose to believe in reality and truth. Choose to trust in the words and actions of Jesus. We are emotional beings because our God is a very personal and emotional Being. However, in a fallen and broken world, it is tempting to allow emotions to rule over mind and logic. Do not be conformed to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your soul. We are also logical beings, because our God is a thinking and rational Being as well. And he is not silent. He has spoken in a multitude of ways, and continues to speak, but most fundamentally has spoken in these last days through the Son, who is the final and definitive Word to the world.

And in him, through him, and with him, God says to us, “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other… If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

The Small, Simple Revolution

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Gandhi once said, “Find yourself in the service of others.” Mother Teresa taught, “It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into the giving.”

I am driven by the concept of Do It Yourself.  Some phrase it as: Be the answer to your prayers.  Others, as: Be the change you want to see.

Either way, I am driven by it.  While it is always easier to stand around complaining about the economy, unemployment, and poverty, and infinitely easier to argue over which politician or political party will be the “solution” to society’s plight, neither the complaining nor the arguing will ultimately bring about the desired proactive remedy.

So in the spirit of DIY, I am calling for us to be the revolution we are waiting for.

Being the revolution begins with small, simple baby steps.  While the steps may seem trivial, keep in mind that a journey always begins with a single step forward.

We live in a culture very much centered around, “What is in it for me?” This seems to be a creedal statement which drives the way society thinks and operates. The small, simple revolution, in order to thrive, must reject this way of thinking at the core. The root needs to be plucked out, and in its place, a fresh seed ought to be planted, one which begins with, “What is in it for others?”

It is always more important to love than to be loved, to forgive than to be forgiven, to understand than to be understood. And love, forgiveness, and understanding are all choices of the will, and are the foundation of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We need a renewed mentality which is focused on others before self, with no expectation or desire or need for self to receive anything in return. Loving acts of service begin with a heart willing to sacrifice, and sacrifice is always done on behalf of another.

Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.”

Jesus once taught, “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”

The small, simple revolution begins by seeing the world and people with new eyes. It is good to be realistic, but never lose sight of a proactive idealism, for that will drive the reality you choose to see around you. The world will not change until we become individuals willing to change.

The following are a sampling of ideas that my wife and I have either done, or have seen done by others. It gives you an idea as to what creativity lies in your very own heart. You do not need to imitate our ideas, but if they inspire you to do so, all the more power to you. See where your own creativity and imagination wanders, and discover the little part you play in bringing God’s dream and vision to restore and heal a broken world to fruition.

If not you, who? If not now, when?

Jesus once sent his first group of apostles to nearby cities to proclaim the Good News and heal the sick and free people from the demons plaguing them. This initial group ended changing the world. What is remarkable is that, on this initial trip, the apostles were told to not bring any money with them. I believe one of the deeper reasons for this is to teach us today that massive amounts of riches and wealth are not necessary or required to bring healing and restoration and joy to the lives of others.

In another scene, Jesus is preaching to a multitude in the thousands. This crowd is following him because they are a people desperately in need of miracles, of a reminder that God is with them. The apostles tell Jesus that it is getting late and it is best to tell the people to leave so they can go find food. Jesus responds by saying to his apostles, “They do not need to leave. Give them something to eat.” It is beautiful how the apostles are placed with the personal charge and task of providing for the people in need with the few resources they have available. Even when the apostles tell Jesus they do not have much to give, Jesus performs a supernatural miracle and expands their resources. You and I may only feel like we have limited talent, resources, ideas, and strength, but if we entrust the little we have to God and offer big hearts willing to love and serve, we will be amazed at what we are capable of doing.

Living a more simplified lifestyle can be a radical political statement in times such as these, when so many are struggling to get by.  Find creative and imaginative ways to financially help out family members, friends, random strangers, and homeless people.  You do not need to be Trump-status rich to do this.  Always bring yourself back to the creed of small and simple.

Gift cards and certificates, even in small amounts of a few dollars, are always pleasant surprises to others.  Consider some from a local grocery store or restaurant and leave them in mailboxes of friends and family.  For extra fun, leave them anonymous.

Go to your local car wash on a hot, sunny afternoon, and surprise the workers with lunch food and a case of bottled water.  Trust me—they will thank you for the gesture!  You may even get a free car wash out of it (if you do, be generous with the tip).

The next time you are in the checkout line at a grocery store, put a few dollars towards the person in line behind you.  I remember several years ago hearing a story about a chain reaction that started when a person paid the bill of the people in line behind them at a drive-through coffee shop.  Ideas like this spark joy and radiate light in a world that often times seems so dark, and bring a little unexpected happiness towards someone who may be going through rough times.

I know a friend who will collect his change over time, and then when he has collected enough, will go to bus stops and leave stacks of quarters, dimes, and nickels on the bench.  I have another friend that often times, when she is able, will go to a pizza place to order dinner and then buy a large pizza for whoever is in line behind her.  I once talked to a guy who said he would leave dollar bills with inspirational messages of hope stapled to them inside jean and coat pockets at clothing stores.

The next time you see a homeless person and they ask you for some spare change, introduce yourself and ask them what their favorite meal is.  Then make the effort to go surprise them with the meal, greet them by their name, and consider eating dinner alongside them.  This experience may seem foreign to many people, but from personal experience with my wife, we can attest to the astounding beauty and miracles that will be uncovered once you do it.

There is nothing wrong with discussing ideas as to how we can make the world around us an overall better place, but rather than just getting bitter through complaining or arguing, be the revolution we are waiting for you.  We cannot change the whole world, but we can certainly do our part to bring a smile to someone’s face.  And it all begins with small, simple steps.

God’s Heart Is Moved: Reflections on Matthew 9:32-38

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Matthew 9:32-38 – A demoniac who could not speak was brought to Jesus, and when the demon was driven out the mute man spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.” Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

The Pharisees mentioned in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel are not representative of every single religious leader in Jesus’ day, but they certainly are a prominent bunch appearing throughout the public ministry of Jesus. Driven by jealousy, fear, selfishness, and pride, it angered them to see the crowds flocking to hear the new teachings being proclaimed by this alleged Messiah and to witness his supernatural miracles, which in this account involved the exorcism of a man possessed by a demon. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Satan, thus attributing the work of God to the work of the devil. Unfortunately, fear and pride will do this to the best of people. It will take what is so obvious at face value and twist and distort it due to paranoia and preconceived hidden agendas. So often, we can miss out on what God is doing here and now in our lives because we are blinded by vices gripping the soul and mind. We need to be attuned to the presence of God in the world around us, even when that means humbling ourselves in order to see him and hear his voice.

The same lesson can also be applied in a second way. Someone doing something positive in the world around us, actively working to bring light and peace and hope, at the same time alleviating the world of darkness and sin and despair, is someone doing their part to partner with Jesus’ vision in building the kingdom of God. It is indifferent in this context as to what their religious of even nonreligious persuasion is. What is relevant is they are in union with the work of Christ, and in that sense we ought not attribute their works to the power of the devil just because they happen to have a different stance or belief system than us. To do such a thing would be in league with the Pharisees mentioned in this account, not with Jesus.

A third application has to do with supernatural miracles occurring in the world today. Without delving into the specifics or details of any particular one, I would simply encourage the reader to investigate the Miracle of Our Lady at Fatima, occurring on October 13th, 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, witnessed publicly by hundreds of thousands of individuals ranging all over the religious and political spectrum. I have shared the story of this miracle in past conversations with friends of mine of the Protestant and nondenominational Christian tradition when dialoguing about Catholic Christianity. Some people are quick to dismiss such a story by simply saying, “It is probably a deception of the devil.” It saddens me to hear such quick dismissals, for Mary’s purpose in appearing to people in these times has been in the role of a prophet pleading with souls to let go of fleeting worldly sin and to cling to Jesus.

This Gospel passage also shows us that the Christian life is always an intertwined connection between teaching and doing. Notice that wherever Jesus traveled, he was teaching, proclaiming, and curing. Preaching the Gospel is something we do with our words as much as we do with our actions. Connected to this must be compassion, which is defined as seeing through the eyes and heart of the other person. This is why Jesus is moved with pity for the crowds, for they are like scattered sheep without a shepherd. He has compassion on the people he is teaching and curing, for he knows within their hearts, as within our own hearts as well in our own day and age, we at times are a lost and broken people, desperately searching for a God who cares and loves and heals. In the ministry of Jesus, and in his ongoing work through the Church, we are to be instruments of peace and workers of mercy to the world around us. God sees into our own hearts as well, and he has compassion. The Divine Heart is moved with pity.

Keep in mind, too, the image of the tireless Jesus, constantly on the move and teaching and healing those in need. His every breath is at the service of someone else in need. He is always placing the needs of others first, before his own. Reflect on that the next time you “do not feel called” to help someone in need. The task to love and serve and heal is a mandate not dependent on our feelings. If you ever wonder what God’s will is for your life, it is remarkably easy to discover. Wherever you see someone in need, physically or spiritually, that is where God is calling you. And yes, that even applies to strangers and enemies and relatives.

An abundant harvest seems empty without a multitude of laborers. God calls each of us to be his hands and feet. Sometimes, that calling even transcends borders we are comfortable with. Either way, the call is always one and the same. To build the kingdom. To partner with him in the task. To make his dream and vision a concrete and tangible reality. The task is not reserved to ordained priests and pastors alone. All of us are encouraged to take our place in the grand story. At times, you will be contradicted and calumnied, as Jesus was. You will be overwhelmed with tasks at hand, as Jesus was. You will perform miracles which will move hearts, as Jesus did. Ask God to send out laborers for the harvest, and be prepared. Because the first one he will send will be you.

The Doubting Thomas in All of Us

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The Doubting Thomas in All of Us

Today is the Feast Day of St. Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles. His great claim to fame, or perhaps infamy, through the passage of time has been the designation of being the disciple who doubted that Jesus had rose from the dead until he saw the resurrected Christ himself. Thus, he is most often referred to as “Thomas the Doubter.” From that nickname has come the term “Doubting Thomas” which is popular to use in common culture, especially of anyone who is struggling with their faith or with certain elements or teachings of the Christian faith. Here is the account from St. John’s Gospel:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

It is easy to read over the above account and accuse Thomas of being weak in faith. I hear it applied all the time. People will say things like, “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.” What is often missed is the larger picture of Thomas’ life, such as when Jesus was leaving to visit Lazarus and Thomas exclaimed, “We will go to die with you!” Or the historical reality that later in his life Thomas had a reputation as a powerful evangelist, traveling to India in 52 AD to bring the Gospel message there. To this day, the community in India known as St. Thomas Christians still exists, tracing their roots back to the founding of several churches there from the apostle himself. However, the greatest testimony to Thomas’ life is that he died a martyr for his faith in Jesus Christ. He was pierced by spears in 72 AD by soldiers for spreading the Gospel in India. So great was his love for God and conviction in his beliefs that he willingly went to his martyrdom for it, sacrificing his life for the cause of Christ and the spreading of the Good News.

Looking at the whole span of his life, we see Thomas as an individual very much like all of us. At times, we are very strong in our convictions for what we believe and in whom we believe. Other times, we have moments where we temporarily falter a bit. How often have we professed to give our lives and hearts to God, only to then some time after fade away a bit and lose steam? It happens to all of us. Thomas had a moment of doubt because his despair was so great at the news of Jesus being crucified. However, once encountering the risen Christ with his own eyes, his life was forever altered, to the point of laboring for the Gospel and then dying as a martyr in India. We may not see Jesus physically in the flesh, but he nevertheless is present to us sacramentally and spiritually and mystically. He makes his presence known to our hearts and souls constantly in numerous different ways. And yet, we continue to experience continual or prolonged periods of doubt. I know I have. It is the human part of us to go through these droughts. Thomas’ life, far from being a testimony of just an episode of momentary doubt, rather teaches us that these episodes happen in the life of every disciple at different points and stages on the journey.

The challenge for us is what we do with our moments of doubt, and where do we choose to go? For Thomas, he chose to labor hard and to preach and witness with his words and actions. For Thomas, he chose to carry his cross and follow in the footsteps of his Lord, which was the trail of thorns and nails. For Thomas, he chose to trust in Divine Providence which led him to his martyrdom and to eternal glory. He is not primarily Thomas the Doubter. He is Thomas who triumphed victoriously in spite of fleeting doubt. He is Thomas, Apostle and Martyr. And there is a little bit of him in us all. We are all prone to moments of doubt, and we are just as prone to encounters with Christ and lives which are transformed by his grace.

We so often hear, “I will believe it when I see it!” Often times, we say things like this ourselves. However, worldly wisdom rarely connects with Christian spirituality. You don’t see in order to believe. You begin to truly see once you believe. And one final thought- notice the gentle approach Jesus takes to Thomas in his fleeting episode of doubt. Jesus offers all of us this gentle approach in our moments as well, and calls us to be his example to those around us who struggle at times. May St. Thomas pray for us to imitate his example of moving past doubt to overwhelmingly trust in God.

Taking Control of Your Mental State in Order to Win!

Peak Performance Mindset via Bob Choat

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I watched the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship today and Michelle Wei winning her first major championship. In fact, for women in golf, this is the top championship. At the 16th hole Michelle Wei had a double boggie. Prior that she had a comfortable 3 shot lead over runner-up Stacy Lewis. Going into the 17th hole many were nervous that Wei may become the Wei of old.

The typical golfer tends to self-destruct after a bad hole like Wei had on the 16th. It turned out that Michelle Wei was not the earlier version. She was focused and had self-control. On the 17th hole she shot a birdie and went up by two going into the final hole. By that time it was clearly a matter of finishing up. She ended 2-putting the 18th after a good drive and won by 2.

Experts in golf will explain that it’s the…

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