Fillet O’ Fish Fridays

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Yesterday was the official kickoff of the season of lent. To some, it is the kickoff to Mardi Gras. To me, today is a reminder of the mercy and grace of what God has done in my life, saving me from my self-righteous sin of religion.

Being raised in an Italian, Catholic, New York household, I wouldn’t say I had religion rammed down my throat. It was more of a subtle surrounding that became part of my identity. When I became old enough to form my own theology and make my own religious choices, not only did I stick to my Catholic religion and traditions (after a brief agnostic hiatus during my college years) but I was hard-core, old school. Vatican I, not Vatican II.

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For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, allow me to walk you through my sin of religion and self-righteousness.

For Ash Wednesday, I would show up for mass, bring my palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday to be burned for the ashes. I would then get my ashes and show up to work, not just proudly and arrogantly but judgmental. I would ask my other Catholic friends, family and co-workers:

“Did you get your ashes and go to mass today?”
To which most of them replied, “I haven’t had a chance.”
I would in turn respond with a disappointed nodding of my inflated head. I now wonder how that made the other person feel.

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Two days later was one of my favorite parts of lent (aside from the Jesus thing of course)….$1 Fillet O’Fish Fridays at McDonalds. The good ole Catholic that I was, couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. But here is where the sinful Pharisee in me really shined through. You see, as part of the Vatican II council meeting, they changed the rules and said that no longer must Catholics abstain from eating meat every Friday, now we only have to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the 40 day lent season. Bad day for cows. Not me, I went old school and never under any circumstances would I eat meat on any Friday throughout the year. Just like my grandma. As she also taught me, since not eating meat on all Fridays was the norm. For lent, we would give up eating meat on Wednesdays as well. The cows were happy again. So was I, as that meant scungili Wednesdays for dinner.

As for mass on Sunday….

A lot of times I would attend the Saturday evening mass. Loved that we had that option available to us at times that Sunday mass interfered with my idolatry of football. Plus it would also allow me to sleep in after a Saturday night of clubbing with friends. With the only downside being that you lose that fantastic perk of Sunday morning forgiveness and cleansing of sins from that previous night. Now you would have to wait another week and carry the baggage with you.

I also was very old school Vatican I, in that I would only receive communion from the priest directly, not from an usher. And I would not take it in my hand, but it had to be placed directly by the priest himself. After all, he was holy and I was not worthy to touch the host. The actually broken body (according to Catholicism) of Jesus.

Boy, was I confident that I was earning many points up in Heaven with God. I was so holy. A religious fanatic. Plus, I was baptized as a baby, so I had my fire insurance, my get out of hell free card, just in case I didn’t earn my way to heaven.

I certainly can understand why so many people are turned off by religion. As they should. As we all should.

Fast forward about 5 years later and I am now thankful to God for saving me from the sin of religion. And yes, religion is a sin. All religion! Just ask Jesus who continually rails on the sinful, religious, Pharisees throughout His ministry on earth.

Religion is nothing but the formation of a bunch of sinful men, coming up with their own interpretation (false gospel) and list of rules of dos and don’ts to get into Heaven. The sad irony, although a bit comical if you really stop and think about it, is that is exactly the reason why God sent His one and only Son. To live the perfect life. Tempted like us but without sin unlike us (true meaning of lent which is Jesus 40 days of temptation in the desert without sin, after His baptism). To prepare for His ministry and ultimately His dying on the cross for our sins. Absorbing the punishment and wrath from God the father, that we ALL deserve. He died on the cross, because no matter how many tasty filet O fish sandwiches I ate. No matter how many consecutive Saturdays I went to Mass. No matter how many hail Marys and our fathers and rosaries I said. No matter if I did not drink alcohol and only took communion from the priest. No matter how big the ashes on my forehead nor how proudly I displayed them.

God knew from the beginning that all of us would always fall short and that we could never ever earn our way into Heaven. That is the beauty of the grace and mercy of what Jesus did FOR us, what we could not do.

Will this lent be different for you? Will you give up soda or meat or cussing for lent? Maybe, just maybe, you will give up religion and replace it with JUST JESUS!

Enjoy your Fillet O Fish Fridays as I now can. Knowing I am eating the unhealthy sandwich just because it tastes good. Not because I am trying to earn my way to Heaven.

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ESPN.com:An infographic look at the journey of Jeremy Lin

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Whitney Houston and The Greatest Love

With all the talk and controversy over the death of Whitney Houston this weekend, I was driving in the car and the radio was playing her greatest hits in her honor.

One of her most famous songs from the 80s came on. The Greatest Love. I can remember when that song was popular, I used to use it for motivation before my little league baseball games. I would keep singing it over and over in my head. Hey don’t judge…I know I am not the only one. Most of us did the same thing with Humpty and Vanilla Ice and possibly even Milli Vanilli, but we are getting off topic here.

The point being, as I was listening to this song and actually listening to the lyrics it hit me. Everyone was aware Ms. Houston’s battle with drugs and personal problems. Many of us that were familiar with her career, often labeled her career, “Pre-Bobby” (before her marriage to Bobby Brown) and “The Bobby Era” (her years married to Bobby Brown). Now of course a lot of us, especially Whitney Houston fans like to blame her drug problem on Bobby Brown. The innocent gospel singer that got mixed up with the wrong person, hip-hop thug, Bobby Brown. And he got her mixed up into drugs which ruined her career and ultimately led to her early death.

I will say that Ms. Houston did an honorable thing in her interview years ago with Diane Sawyer and also with Barbara Walters, in first and foremost, admitting her drug problem and not trying to hide it or lie about it (Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmiero probably missed those interviews, but getting off topic again here). The other honorable and memorable thing Ms. Houston did during those interviews, was not blame other people for her drug use. She took ownership and was very clear that she is the one that made those choices. Very admirable to see her say this publicly.

Back to her song…..

What was not mentioned in that interview but struck me this past weekend when I heard that song for the first time in many years, and definitely for the first time since I became a Christian. That song and those lyrics, in my opinion (of which I am an expert), was her downfall and the beginning of the end:

The Greatest Love of All

    Is Easy to Achieve

    Learning to Love Yourself

    It is the Greatest Love of All

Learning to love yourself, is the dumbest thing of all. Although Freud, Jung, Pavlov and all of their New-Age Ism friends may agree with Ms. Houston. From my personal experience and more important than that, from God Himself and His Word, I would have to say that is where the problem begins and ends. Most people know God’s greatest commandment is to what? “Love the LORD your God with all your heart. And to love your neighbor as yourself.” Even if you have a “coexist” sticker on your bumper, you probably know that ALL of the world’s top religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu) all command the people to love something, other than self. Be it Jesus, God, Allah and other muslims, people in your caste system, etc. Deep down, although we are all born loving ourselves, we all know that there is something wrong with that in us and in this world we live in. Hence the reason that religion takes form and tries to make rules to fix things that are broken in this world and in people.

A life of loving one self is exhausting. It leads to nothing but constant anger and frustration (read the book of James). If the main point in this universe is YOU, than everyone else is just an annoyance or an obstacle, keeping you from your happiness. The guy that cuts you off in traffic…how dare he? Doesn’t he know that he cut YOU off, and that YOU were on YOUR way to somewhere very important? That prospect that just said No to ME and kept ME from making a sale, which kept ME from making MY money, which just kept ME from getting that new car I wanted. How dare he say no to ME. Or MY wife that just asked for help with THE kids tonight. How dare she? Doesn’t she realize that she married ME, so that I can be happy and that tonight I wanted to watch the Knick game and check out this Lin-Sanity kid? (Bet you didn’t think I would be able to drop a Jeremy Linn reference into a post about Whitney Houston and Her Greatest Love). How dare she come between ME and MY beer and a night watching 10 tall guys in shorts running around chasing a ball while I ignore my own kids. Doesn’t she know that this is not making ME happy? Marriage is supposed to be about us making each other happy, isn’t it? (post coming soon). Well, now I am not happy and am quite angry and frustrated.

How exhausting……

Living for the Greatest  Love of Self is the way of man and it leads to what? Death!

When you live a life that is all about you, it will always end in anger and frustration. Then what? Well, you are not very happy, you are often angry and frustrated. So you, like the rest of us have to make one of three choices every single day you wake up:

1)You can kill yourself

2)You can self medicate and drug yourself to mask the pain, anger and frustration and unhappiness

or

3)You can get on board with God’s plan

God’s plan, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might. It frees you up. It frees you up from anger and frustration when you finally realize that the point of this world is not you. The point is God Himself. When you realize this, a funny thing happens…no more anger. No more frustration. And it frees you up to love others.

The Greatest Love of All

    Is Easy to Achieve

    Learning to Love Yourself The Lord Your God

It is the Greatest Love of All

    And if by Chance that Special Place

    That you’ve been dreaming of

    Leads you to a VERY lonely place

    Find your strength in love CHRIST!