“I will walk in the presence of God, in the light of the living.” What does it signify or suggest when we take a walk? First, we can safely assume that we needed to get outside of our routine and even ourselves to achieve a fresh perspective on our lives and even cleanse the soul of any negative or destructive attitudes or thoughts, Secondly, we walked where it was safe and perhaps even invited someone we trusted and love to accompany the stroll with us. And finally, and by no means the end of possible answers, we knew that something good would come of this walk if only to find peace and comfort, even exercise. All this applies beautifully to the image of walking in the presence of the Lord and making sure that our deeds are worthy of light. This is what it means to live a healthy and holy life.
“When a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another journeying to Jesus, he spoke in a parable. ‘A sower went out to sow his seed.'” In the Gospel today, there were many people “out for a walk” and this time they met Jesus. He told them a great, meaningful story about yet another person who went out on a walk, this time to sow seeds. Depending on where the seed landed determined the outcome. Here again, is yet another wonderful image for life itself. We are all walking through many different situations and circumstances. What we do during these “life-walks” and what we plant will determine not only on how the day will end, but also how each life will finish and be judged: “But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.”
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“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn, and you will.” Vernon Howard
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” There is no such thing as a gardener without passion. Nor could there be one without creativity or deep insight about the earth and what comes out of it. We could even say for our purposes here that working with the soil and growing food and flowers that enrich our lives is really an art that employs the hand, the head, and the heart altogether. During these weeks before the interesting trifecta of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, we are witnesses through the Scriptures of the “firstfruits” of the sowing and planting of the Gospel enriched by the Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to produce this wonderful and life-giving fruit of the world’s garden, the Church. God is like the Supreme Gardener who has placed all of creation in place and in order and brings all the blossoms in an all-powerful and all-loving gentle manner. This very truth inspired the Psalmist to invite us to sing with him today and forever: “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”
And while we are living in a complete world of gratitude and the overwhelming sense that Jesus is right here with us through thick and thin, our behavior then reflects such living: “Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom.” Clearly the Scriptures today proclaim the deep and life-giving connection with the integrity of life because of the One who has loved us into existence. If we believe in Jesus and follow Him, then our entire lives must strive to live as redeemed and ransomed people. This is how we exhibit the closeness to our hearts with the divine mysteries of creation and redemption. Jesus, using the imagery of gardening and farming, reminds all of us of this intimate relationship when He states in another passage: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” If it is true, and it is, that you can always tell a tree by its fruit, then who will people see and experience in us today. Will they see Jesus?
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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt
“I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” St. Paul makes it very clear most emphatically in his Letter to the Corinthians that humanity is lost without the Gospel. And yet, he warns all of us Christians that we cannot hide behind precepts and regulations and mount some kind of superior plane or landing from which to judge people and forget that we, that is, all of humanity, are in the same boat. Clearly we have no right to judge other people just because they do not sin like we do. St. Paul explains that the final judgement will be a review of performance, not of privilege. From this perspective, everyone stands on an equal footing with each other and thus we cannot realistically condemn others without condemning ourselves.
“Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” St. Luke continues and completes this thought for us by making sure that the Pharisees know that mere possession of laws is no evidence of virtue. Mark Twain once responded to a man who was going to the Holy Land to see where the Ten Commandments were given with, “Why don’t you just stay home and live them?” Good point, Mr. Clemens.
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” “The worst prison,” St. John Paul wrote, “would be a closed heart,” and this is precisely why you and I must know the difference between judging and admonishing. Arrogant judgment condemns because it is motivated by pride; admonishing the sinner liberates because it is motivated by love. Each produces very different results.
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“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.” Unfortunately, there are many around us who hear the refrains of hope and salvation that you and I hear but continue to go forward blindly. We must pray for each other constantly until that day that we all see clearly what Christianity and following Jesus really means and what greatness in Heaven and eternal life is just waiting for us. Today, you and I must be that voice, that speaker to announce the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord!
“Love is patient, love is kind.” Life has a lot to do with listening. Think of all the different sounds we hear every single day. We listen for important announcements and information that we deem pertinent to us. We also listen to the voices of those whom we love. So does God: What we hear during this great adventure following the Lord is the call to get real with our lives and with each other. There are many other voices shouting out at us all year long. Only one voice matters: “But I shall show you a still more excellent way.”
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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia
“Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary; without dying you won the Martyr’s crown beneath the Cross of the Lord.” Today, the Church remembers and honors the intense suffering and grief of the Mother of Jesus during His Passion and Death. There were actually seven individual sorrows that Mary endured as was foretold to her by Simeon the priest of the Temple on the occasion of the Lord’s Presentation. Here is a partial text of a very popular hymn somberly expressing these heartfelt sentiments: At the cross, her station keeping, Stood the mournful Mother weeping, Close to Jesus to the last. Through her heart, his sorrow sharing, All his bitter anguish bearing, Now at length the sword had passed. Our present hope for our Christian journey toward Heaven is easily seen in the Opening Prayer at Mass today: “Father, as your Son was raised on the cross, His Mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings. May your Church be united with Christ in His suffering and death and so come to share in His rising to new life. Looking to the example of Mary, may we too unite our sufferings to our Lord, facing them with courage, love, and trust.”
“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” Let us reflect on the mystery and fruits of suffering as presented by St. John Paul II in a remarkable teaching borne out of his own incredible personal sufferings. First, he says that suffering empowers humility: To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In Him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man’s weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. Secondly, he teaches that suffering is transformative: Down through the centuries and generations, it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace, many saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He discovers a new dimension, as it were, of his entire life and vocation. Finally, he writes that suffering enlivens and grows charity and love for and of others: We could say that suffering . . . is present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one’s “I” on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer. The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense man owes to suffering that unselfish love that stirs in his heart and actions.
Thus, suffering in its purest sense is actually the road to holiness and a closer walk and friendship with the Lord Jesus. His mother shed human tears for the Divine Son she helped bring into this world, our world. We cry human tears but not always for what is right and just. Today we seek to move toward complete integrity on this walk of ours toward Heaven, knowing and embracing humility, deep-seated change, and charity which are all great gifts when we suffer together with Jesus always in our hearts and minds.
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“Let me mingle tears with you, Mourning him who mourned for me, All the days that I may live. Christ, when you shall call me hence, Be your Mother my defense, Be your cross my victory.” Stabat Mater
What is the mystery of suffering? Maybe we should begin with the penalty for complaining. It did not go well for the people in the First Reading: “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.” The problem was simple: they forgot about how good God had been to them and just focused on the things in the present moment without giving thanks to the One who always took care of them. Thus, the Psalmist made it clear to them and us what we must all do: “Do not forget the works of the Lord!”
None of us like to suffer. We avoid pain and discomfort. Our whole society and culture are seemingly built around the basic premise that we must avoid all pain. The problem, however, is simple and tragic. No one can avoid suffering. No one can escape death. The simple message of today is that life is not a question about whether or not you are going to suffer; it is a question of how. We who believe in Jesus know the answer to that question. We suffer with Him so we can rise with Him. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Again, this awakens the thoughts we raised yesterday. Which path will I take today? Whose promise will I place my entire trust?
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“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.” St. Sebastian Valfre
“Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” In the March 2014 issue of the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Journal, a group of scientists published findings that concluded that forgiveness of self and others play more than a causal role with a person’s ability to deal with stress, long-term health, and longevity. The Letter to the Romans today suggests even better benefits: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.”
The entire depth and scope of the life of Jesus has everything to do with forgiveness, and not just conditional forgiveness, either. His very self-sacrificing love offering on the cross can reverberate in one’s heart throughout the years we have left. By accepting this fundamental act of love and forgiveness, we can expect great things now and later, and desperately painful occurrences if we do not. “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
What does this teach us and how can we apply what we have learned in the days ahead? Let us consider this phrase: Forgive and forgive. No, this is not a misprint: You read it correctly. Forgive and forgive. But what does it really mean? Christmas is now more or less a hundred days away and our Scriptures this week usher in a magnificent time of preparation to come with a child-like heart and soul to the manger in December to see the Baby Jesus born for us. What too often blocks us from truly experiencing the joy of Christmas and in fact joy throughout the year, is the lack of forgiveness in our hearts and in our vocabulary. Let’s change that:
Forgive the big names, the estranged family members, the ex-spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, the harsh bosses, the crafty co-workers, literally anyone that has hurt you tremendously. Probably the very people you were thinking about as you read that last sentence. Take it slowly, talk with someone you trust, and then ask the Father to help you forgive those who have deeply trespassed against you. It is real freedom.
Forgive the little infractions that occur every day, you know, like the one who cut you off on the freeway, the one who took your parking space (yes, the one with your name on it), the person who forgot your birthday, anniversary or something like that, and that one person who just seems to have the real talent of finding your last nerve and getting on it. No doubt during this week, this is probably going to happen more times than not, which means many more opportunities for grace and growth in the Lord. I have heard from others that it is a good idea just to ask God to forgive everybody who is going to pull the wrong chain that day even before you get out of bed. That means you will always be one step ahead. (And please remember that We are also “the one person” for someone else who will need to forgive us. It does balance out. Trust me.)
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“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” Catherine Ponder
“No, I mean that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Lip service is no service at all. We can believe that actions prove who someone is while their words just prove who they want to be. Nothing prospers when evil is done in the sight of the Lord especially from those from whom so much more is expected. So what are we to make of all this in application to our spiritual lives?
Again, the Gospel takes us even deeper: “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock.” So here we have the trifecta of a very successful spiritual life: listen, act, repeat. Everyone hears something but not everyone listens. Everyone does something, but not everyone acts within the will of God. In the end, everything will depend on where we placed our belief and trust, and where we built the foundation upon we will die. We know what happens to those who build on sand. Disaster, plain and simple. Building on Jesus the Rock means everything.
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“To build your house on rock is to hear what Jesus says and obey. To be foolish and build your house on sand is to hear and ignore.” Kevin DeYoung
I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” Today is a difficult day for some, problematic for others, and still a puzzle for many. What happened? Why did it happen? Is it going to happen again? For all of the above segments of our society, there must be a common, stable, and universal answer. And there is: God’s patience mercifully calls forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” Saint Bernard goes on to ask: “But what can I count on? My own merits? No, My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important for today: our goal must be the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love. We must seek mercy in the very heart of our understanding of who God is for the whole world. Let us Pray:
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“God, we come to you today in remembrance of the lives lost to unspeakable violence, especially those on September 11th and in its aftermath. All of us were touched by this day – from the loss of loved ones to changes in the national mood. We remember our anger and fear, gritty like sand in our teeth – anger at lives lost, at words and actions of retaliation, at excuses to oppress people in our country and around the world, fear over what might happen, over losing our own lives. We remember our sorrow, salty water flowing from our eyes, grief at loss, at the deep pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers. But we also pray that this salty water will become seed for a better tomorrow. Like these seeds, we have hope that your kingdom of peace and justice will take root and flourish in our world. And we remember the fabric of life of which we are all a part – from workers at the Pentagon to the undocumented workers at the top of the World Trade Towers to people in Afghanistan who had never heard of New York City. May we learn to sew together this fabric, with unbreakable threads so that we may cling together in solidarity and such violence may never be repeated.” Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Here we see that once again, Jesus, the New Moses, and Lawgiver transforms our very way of life and that even to this day some people believe is virtually impossible. However, it is not impossible. In the First Reading we are reminded of the ultimate source of all power in this universe who is the ultimate judge and dispenser of all justice: “…there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist.” The act of forgiveness and exuding mercy does so much for the heart that displays such intentions that it becomes clear that when The Lord asks us to forgive our enemies, He really and truly wants the best for our souls so that they are freed of any hatred and the scourge of evil.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Our world is definitely filled with people who have been hurt, mocked, and humiliated. This would explain why it’s easy to see how hurting people hurt people. As Christians, we are charged to remember that all people carry wounds whether they were self-inflicted or not. We all suffer in one way or another and what we truly need is patience and love rather than judgment. And if we needed any further convincing, there is this very interesting detail that is nudged between the loving lines of wisdom today: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” It is as if there was a celestial stopwatch that starts calculating the time it takes us to forgive and then uses that very time to be applied to us when we need forgiving, which, by the way, is every single day. So basically, the time to forgive is yesterday.
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“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Abraham Lincoln
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” Ours is a marvelous and mysterious Faith which permeates every single aspect of existence. In addition to the Scriptures, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and prayer, God becomes present to us in nature, music, art, literature, and the beauty of human relationship. What is deeply rich about the combination of the Scriptures presented on this Sabbath is the intricate connection between being accountable to one another, listening to God as closely as possible, and the power of prayer. This is most profoundly expressed in the First Beatitude which proclaims the blessing of being poor in spirit. This type of poverty means that we depend on the Lord God for everything and realize that all that we have comes from Him and His holy hand for our benefit especially our ultimate entry into Heaven. Thus, our private prayer, our speech to God will have an enormous impact on our daily conversations with other people in our lives.
Our speech is a powerful tool that can be used both for good and for evil. When properly exercised, it is certainly a blessing. But when it’s not, it can act as a curse with dire consequences for everyone involved. Parents, employers, religious and political leaders carry a great burden that is attached to authority. We must speak the truth but we must know it first. We must address what is wrong and harmful but we must not fall into the role of hypocrite and hater. The only way to ensure this delicate balance is poignantly expressed further in the account of the Beatitudes in the Gospel of the day: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” Today you and I are called to examine our own prayer life. Do we have one? Does it fuel our choices and decisions at home and work? Does it make a difference?
St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was once asked about her prayer life. The interviewer asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?” The beautiful Saint replied, “I don’t talk, I simply listen.” Believing he understood what she had just said, the interviewer next asked, “Ah, then what is it that God says to you when you pray?” She replied, “He also doesn’t talk. He also simply listens.” There was a long silence, with the interviewer seeming a bit confused and not knowing what to ask next. Finally, Mother Teresa broke the silence by saying, “If you can’t understand the meaning of what I’ve just said, I’m sorry but there’s no way I can explain it any better.”Leave a comment
Today we celebrate the birth of Blessed Virgin Mary and there are so many presents to open. Let us begin our festive spiritual birthday celebration. First, from the Catechism: (487) What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines, in turn, its faith in Christ. (490) To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace.” (Luke 1:28) In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace. (491) Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. (492) The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.” The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:3-4) (493) The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “The All-Holy” and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.” By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
Secondly, the only starting point in every and any discussion about the Blessed Virgin Mary is Jesus Christ, her Son. This must always be the focus of our conversation and understanding of who she is and why she is pivotal and critical to our understanding of Jesus and what He accomplished for all of humanity. It starts with the Garden of Eden described in the first chapters of Genesis when Satan, the leader of all the fallen angels, tempts Eve to first doubt her trust in the Lord and then disobey Him. Both she and Adam were permitted to eat from all the trees in Paradise except ONE. The devil, however, was not to have its’ intended and avaricious victory as the Lord made it clear that this was not the end of the battle for the soul of humanity: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers,” speaking of the ultimate combat between the forces of evil and the offspring of the descendant of Eve, who is Mary, the Mother of Jesus Our Redeemer. Thus, the “Tree of Good and Evil” is transformed into the “Tree of Life,” the wood of the Cross upon which Jesus died to “Free us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) So if Jesus is the New Adam (Romans 5:14), then clearly Mary is New Eve. Eve = Mother of all the Living & Mary = Mother of the Church (The Body of Christ to whom she gave birth.)
Thirdly, A Tale of Two Angels: We know who the serpent in the Garden of Eden was. We all read about it in the Book of Revelation: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.” (Chapter 12:7-9) Let’s take a good look at these two angels: The serpent in the Garden of Eden and the Angel Gabriel. One approached Eve, the other, The Virgin Mary with two very different outcomes. Satan tricked Eve by re-phrasing what God had forbidden Adam and her to approach; Gabriel’s announcement (Annunciation) was met with serious questions from Mary: “But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29) Eve’s response to the fallen angel/demon: Distrust and Disobedience. Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel: Trust and Obedience: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1) The aftermath of Eve’s choice: Death entered the world; the aftermath of Mary’s choice: Life entered the world.
Finally, the significance for our Faith: The Church has long believed and taught that the Virgin Mary had to have been preserved from any stain of sin, just as Eve was. It is also crystal-clear that God had a tremendous plan involving this woman from Nazareth who would have had to have been free from any pretext or pride when being asked to be the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. And her own body was to be free from any of sin’s dark shadows because it would be in the very recess of her human body that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man would dwell for nine months. How could it be different?
So consider this in your prayers today in commemorating the wonderful birthday of the Mother of Jesus:
1. God has a magnificent plan for me and it started from the beginning of time.
2. He sent His only Son to die for me, both Divine like God and human-like me (thanks to the obedience of the Virgin Mary).
3. I am created to live on this earth to accomplish as much as I can while I am alive, with the great assistance of the Mother of God, “now and the hour of my death.”
4. After I die, I will be made pure and stainless to live in Heaven forever as was Mary to carry Jesus in her womb.
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“On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” In the Gospel today, we witnessed yet another pathetic example of hypocrisy taken to its unusual conclusion. The scribes and Pharisees would rather a man suffer from a horribly deformed hand than to be cured on the Sabbath. This is because they prefer to maintain a deformed view of reality and others suffer who do not fit into their constructs and mindsets. You see, the Sabbath is much more than law, but truly a gift of God’s care for all of us. He rested on the seventh day not out of fatigue, but to show how a fruitful life should be lived, with enough time for re-creation and renewal. Our redemption from sin and death is truly the work of God and not us. He has literally “done all the work.” Now, for this glorious break, He wants us to enjoy!
You and I unfortunately tend to rush through our busy week, maybe offering God a fleeting wave or a passing prayer. Sunday, the Sabbath, however, calls us to true and thought-out decisions with real intention. We are simply to stop from all the other things we had to do or must do or have to do, and spend quality time with Him and focus attention on Him. When we decide to obey, that is, listen to the Fourth Commandment, we become aware of the astounding and comforting truth that we really belong to God. It is not the Sabbath that we worship but the One who has initiated the Sabbath as we swim in a sort of a memorial in time, a useful tool to help us focus our attention on our awesome destiny. It has a great chance of avoiding spiritual withering within us and awakens the great promise of our Faith: “It is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”
On Sundays, try to remember this Reflection. Consider taking a different approach to the Sabbath and let God be at peace with you and for you. Cut out any unnecessary activity and focus on your hope of Heaven. Then perhaps we may truly appreciate the blessing of St. John for us as cited from his Gospel in the Alleluia Verse of today: “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
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“The gift of the Sabbath must be treasured. Blessed are you who honour this day.” Lailah Gifty Akita
“If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Our speech is a powerful gift that God has given to all humanity. It describes how we live and love and develop relationships with the world and all those who will populate our years and create masterpieces with their friendship and care for us. Our words can also betray us and there is in the present world much temptation to lie and damage the truth and cause pain even to those who want to love us and care for us. We could say that in some ways, our speech is a two-edged sword in that it can create or destroy depending on the integrity of the one who utters the host of words in a given lifetime. The Scriptures today underscore how important not only our speech is but how powerful our silence can be especially in the face of evil and apathy.
“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” In the Gospel of today, Jesus also addresses the deep and dynamic power of our words. He goes beyond the legal aspects of vows and promises and makes sure that even our daily conversations, especially our casual conversations, are imbued with truth and light and the desire to serve the truth. Otherwise, evil will thrive and not because of the bad people we encounter but because and most due to the good people in our lives who do and say nothing. Silence may be golden, but sometimes it is yellow (cowardice).
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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” William Faulkner
“Learn from myself and Apollos not to go beyond what is written, so that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over against another.” The world is filled with tremendous goodness and terrible evil. This much is painfully, yet hopefully clear. It all began with the events we have come to know as Original Sin. The condition in which we have found ourselves has deeply affected every stratum of our human experience bringing death and darkness into the world but which has joyfully necessitated Jesus Christ to come into our world to save us from our very selves. And the greatest news ever is that Jesus is right here, right now, for each one of us!
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” However and even more pointedly, the Gospel of today points us to another condition of spiritual infection that is all around us. The pettiness and the self-inflated importance of the Pharisees remind us of those who have and exercise authority over us but under the lure and seduction of power on every scale which is immense depending on the degree of the power one possesses. The abuse of authority has inflicted great harm upon individuals and societies and has harmed the possibility of peace and forgiveness in our world. Jesus cuts through the very heart of the problem in the Gospel today which should ring loudly in everyone one of us no matter what state of life we occupy. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, of our days and nights, and of all authority that ever existed over human beings.
One of the basic and forgone conclusions we can draw from all of this is really quite simple: Everyone has a God. There is a single place at the center of the human heart and there is only one entity that can dwell there. If it is not the God who has been revealed to us by his Son, Jesus, then something or someone else is there in that space. It can be power, fame, money, or any other hidden vestige of selfishness, but it is certainly not the One True God whom we adore and love. No, to find complete happiness in this life that will last, even unto forever, we must fall in love with God. Consider again the words of Pedro Arrupe, SJ:
“Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson went on a camping trip. After sharing a good meal and a bottle of fine French wine, they retire to their tent for the night. At about 3:00 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asks, “And, what does that tell you?” Watson replies, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, it tells me that it’s about 3:00 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes retorts, “Someone stole our tent.”
“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.” Perhaps the most obvious hurdles Christians face in following the Lord are the many distractions that soon become almost expected and then ignored. They come in all shapes and sizes from the most usual places to the most surprising places. The issue here is how to spot the obvious signs and wonders which Jesus places right in front of our eyes. The obvious instructions concerning sewing patches or storing wine are funny, in a way, but they point to something quite telling. If we truly want to be happy and find our way to Heaven, we know we can call out to Jesus and He will hear us but when He answers will He find the same conditions in our souls that led us to fall and lose faith? There must be external change to match the internal desire for transformation: “Commit to the LORD your way; trust in him, and he will act. He will make justice dawn for you like the light.”
So as we move through this first Friday of the month, look around: The blessings, the crosses, the tears and laughter, and the ability to just breathe. What do you see? Isn’t it obvious?Leave a comment (2 comments)
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” In both the Old and New Testaments, the references to fish and fishing are many and significant. The very fact that the majority of Apostles whom Jesus called to found and build the Church were fishermen is not a casual reference. There are profound reasons that make this quite significant for our own understanding of the Bible and of the Church itself. This also has implications concerning our own individual call to be good and faithful followers of Christ in this world. Let’s explore a few of them:
1. Fishing takes patience. Good things, like waiting for the fish to bite takes time, and this is certainly the case with our spiritual lives. Overcoming harmful habits and unhealthy attitudes means that we should be patient with ourselves first before moving to evangelize our family and friends.
2. Fishing requires humility. The proverbial description of “the one that got away” and the exaggerated size of the alleged near-catch humorously illustrates the need for humility out on the water and for every Christian out in the world. For the followers of Jesus, there are no more bad days, but certainly, some days are better than others.
3. Fishing involves a team of people. Keep in mind the kind of fishing that is referenced in the Scriptures. It is not the sole figure on the lake with one rod waiting patiently for the long-awaited prize for supper. No, rather the kind of fishing in both the Old and New Testaments involved using nets, large nets, that required a team of people to bring in the haul. This is clearly good when we think that it takes a community gathering of one mind to effectively bring the Gospel to a displaced and broken world.
4. Fishing feeds people. In early Christian churches, the Greek word for fish (ichthus) came to be interpreted as a sort of code word for the name of Jesus. You see, when you take the first letter of each of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” they spell “ichthus.” Although we cannot be sure when this identification first began or where it was first introduced, the fish has certainly become a standard Christian symbol. Perfect. We fish for Jesus, we fish with Him, and we bring Jesus to a hungering and starving people, all the while we become closer and closer. “’Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
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“Jesus, like any good fisherman, first catches the fish then cleans them.” Mark Potter
Each one of us woke up this morning and began this day with literally a million different possibilities as to how our lives would unravel as each minute ticked away. For some, it was a bright and glorious beginning, while for others, problems made their way onto our patch almost immediately. However, one thing is for certain. We all have the same Shepherd: Jesus, and are all in fact His loved ones: “For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Every single moment of every single day, we belong to Him and He is always watching over us. That’s the kind of love He has for us which is why we can echo the words of the Psalmist today in the very depths of our hearts: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”
In the Gospel today, Jesus’ healing of the fever ravishing Simon’s mother-in-law and his confrontation with the demons tells us all right here and right now that He has the power and the love to do the same for each one of us regardless of where we are, or what our station of life may be. These particular Scriptures call out to do a number of things today:
1. Acknowledge that He is present to you
2. Lift and present to Him all the matters and people you have to confront today, especially sickness
3. Believe both in His power and love
4. Wait patiently
Perhaps we could say today that we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we must confront sickness and evil on a daily basis with numbing regularity. The good news is that we are not alone in these confrontations. We carry with us the One has defeated both now and forever.
“Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. The message isn’t new, but we haven’t learned to live it yet.” Peace Pilgrim
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“The Cross of Christ may have overcome evil, but it did not overcome unfairness. For that, Easter is required.” Philip Yancey
“What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” This Gospel passage is especially interesting because it is the first in Luke where we encounter demonic possession. The ancient world believed that the air was thickly populated with evil spirits that sought entry into everyone. Evil spirits that could often enter through food or drink. All illness was caused by them. The Egyptians believed there were thirty-six different parts of the human body and any of them could be entered and controlled by one of these evil spirits. There were spirits of deafness, of dumbness, of fever; spirits which took a man’s sanity and wits away; spirits of lying and of deceit and of uncleanness. It was such a spirit that Jesus exorcised here. “Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!’”
However dramatic or dark, this topic of confronting evil and evil spirits is good for each and every one of us because every day is a challenge and struggle to live this life and walk this walk. We live in a world where darkness and terror can overcome us unless we hold the Light of Christ within us, we will indeed be swallowed up in despair. Thus, the battle of light and darkness is not just outside of us, it is also within us. And we have Jesus especially in the Eucharist to help us move forward in faith. Evil is not sustainable because it has already been defeated. It is now up to us to join the winning, victorious team.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, free from me all that is not of You and cleanse my soul from all deceit, worry, and shame. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
There is a remarkable juxtaposition and a type of literary set of bookends in our Readings of today. In the First Reading, the assured faith and belief that the prophet could actually heal leads to wonderful consequences: “Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.” However and quite sadly, the same is not true later in the life of Jesus: “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.” Jesus’ own people would not, or could not accept Him as the Messiah because they allowed doubt and tragic unbelief to stifle and cloud any hope of a miracle in their midst. How can anyone be so blind with Jesus right in front of them?
The current level of detachment in our society could be a clue. We seem to be facing reality through a screen of some sort. iPhones, laptops, iPads, computers, television, all train us to take an almost inhuman step away from reality so as not to become too immersed with any real internal and integrated approach to life, you know, the way Jesus approached everyone in the Scriptures and how he deals with you and me right here, right now. Let us consider some ways to learn how we can start seeing the Lord truly present in our lives:
The Scripture passage from the Prophet Jeremiah in our First Reading today speaks directly about the new relationship God wishes to extend to the Chosen People, and that means all of us. But the reaction of the prophet was almost puzzling: “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” It should not be of any surprise that the Lord seeks and wants to save and protect us all by “writing the law upon our hearts.” However, this is not a random, lifeless, or two-dimensional gift of rules and regulations, which is why Jeremiah did not fully understand the true invitation that the Lord is extending. It should start to become more and more apparent as we look closer into the Gospel on this beautiful Sunday, that God simply wants to have a close and intimate relationship with each of us.
This new closeness can be overwhelming but the rewards are so beautiful and freeing of the soul that once a person tastes it, they would never ever want to go back to a previous, empty existence: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Today we also remember and celebrate the great promise that we as the People of God, the Church, are to be lovingly and essentially part of the covenant literally from here to eternity. This brings us to the completely jubilant truth that God wants, desires, and continues to rescue us. However, out of an impetuous and impulsive response to the promise of suffering and carrying the cross, Peter did not want his Lord to suffer: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” This is an example of a fledgling, growing faith in its very early stages. This should certainly remind us of our journey toward the Father, that we have the assurance to find the hope of change in our own personalities when our faith is being tested. My hope for today, with the help of this Reading, is that we find the courage and motivation to shake free of meanness and weakness and give Jesus the glory in this life, as we wait to see Him face to face in the next. Today we are given the choice of finding the opportunities to grow or be an obstacle to a deeper existence with the Lord.
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“Real security can only be found in that which can never be taken from you, that is, your relationship with God.” Rick Warren
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” This is truly an amazing Feast that we have today. It is the day that we remember the death and martyrdom of John the Baptist who occupies a number of wonderful categories including cousin to Jesus, the Last Prophet, and outstanding voice that calls us all to listen and be ready for the greatest news we could ever receive. The Readings make this an even more thought-provoking Saturday as we recall how great it is to love the Lord and follow Him with every fiber of our being. John would later express this very same desire when he stated that he himself should decrease while Jesus must increase. Once we come to realize and accept our purpose here on earth, our lives are much simpler and have the potential of even greater holiness.
“But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.” The place of John the Baptist could never be overplayed or misunderstood. He forms one of the most significant members of the cloud of witnesses that helps us all look intently at Jesus and never let it stray. For the many of us who are giving all we have to be the best we can be and please the Lord, we are heartened by the fact that God always prepares the way for us to find Jesus and stay ever-so-close to Him in this life and the next. Our call is to let Jesus increase in our lives and our selfishness decrease. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful Eucharist, success in this field is within our reach. The death of John the Baptist reminds us that following the Lord also has a deep price that sometimes people are unwilling to consider or offer. But in the final analysis, we want to be counted among those who are faithful and loving and true to our calling. Nothing else will do.
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“We remember John the Baptist’s brawny arm pouring some of the Jordan River over Christ. So we remember the central miracle and paradox of the faith that binds us each to each: that we believe, against all evidence and sense, in life and love and light, in the victory of those things over death and evil and darkness.” Brian Doyle
“He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One thing is for certain, everyone suffers. There is not one human being who can escape that category of experience while walking any number of years on this earth. And within that stipulation, there are many who suffer for the Church, in the Church, and for what is just and right. These provide great moments of inspiration and deep calls for prayer and solidarity. Today is also the Feast of St. Monica who prayed incessantly for her wayward son who would go on to become one of the greatest Saints, writers, and examples of complete and remarkable conversion (St. Augustine). Sometimes we think only of the glorious, apparently worry-free, and sparsely inhabited areas of problems when we think of a saintly life but actually ordinary people became great saints precisely because of their suffering and their never-ending desire to pray and life to God those they have loved and wanted heavenly destination. Those who are constantly praying for others can relate the joy and peace that is given that their prayers are not only being heard but are also answered within the Divine Providence that exists in Heaven as it does here on earth. The Psalmist echoes this ecstatic and loving experience: “Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever.”
Our prayers are definitely answered and this makes us even more enthused and desirous of continuing their mandate to Heaven, to our loving God who cares for us so much and who is always reaching out to us with inspiration and strength. Jesus Himself made this crystal clear: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.” Today on the special day of Saint Monica, let us renew our hopes and dreams to never lose heart in praying for everything that we see that we need. Keep remembering those you love and those you have lost no matter what the situation or how dark things may seem. Jesus is the Light of the World and can and does illumine every dark crevice in our lives, now and at the hour of death.
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“Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” St. Augustine, quoting his mother, St. Monica; Confessions
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.” So how did Jesus respond to our “old friends” in today’s Reading? Well, to say the least, it wasn’t pretty. Why the harshness of reaction? That’s what happens when we won’t see how incredibly God is working in our life or in the life of others. It is the expected consequence when we hide behind perceptions, correctness, and the Law while missing the Law-giver in our midst.
“Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him.” The people who understand this can always rejoice because they know themselves, they love the person God sees, and they seek to be as patient with others as possible. But the people who judge and criticize and try to “fix” everyone else except themselves are almost always humiliated. It all depends on the relationship. Today, let us first give thanks that Our Lord loves us so much that we are constantly being exposed to the truth in our lives, ugly at times, but always liberating. Second, let us ask again for the courage to see Jesus in others as we look for Him in our own souls. This is definitely the recipe for true happiness and remarkable clarity.
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“You can speak with spiritual eloquence, pray in public, and maintain a holy appearance, but it is your behavior that will reveal your true character.” Steve Maraboli
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” This week we have been treated with an important term used often enough in Scripture quotes which most people have heard even if they have never read anything else in the Bible. Perhaps much of its popularity is due in part to the widespread experience that everyone has with this issue. We could ask ourselves what is truly the problem with hypocrisy? When someone condemns the sinful behavior of others then engages in the very same behavior, we seem to lose it, or at least, some of the time. Obviously it is objectionable to realize that someone is not practicing what they are preaching but it goes much deeper than that: a hypocrite is trying to convince us that they are more holy, righteous, and moral than the rest of people. This is what makes it so hateful.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” For those of us who sincerely try to follow Jesus and live by the Gospel, we must be convinced that our behavior shapes our personality and therefore all of our moral and otherwise important decisions in life. The scriptures clearly show the track record of those who have abandoned their own set of values and goals toward Heaven and those who never gave up even though it was tough at times to stay focused and faithful. It is all about balance and humility. Jesus wants us all in Heaven and every day we are either moving closer or further away from this awesome destiny of ours. Today let us carry Jesus deep within our souls so that we do or say nothing that would displease him. This is the challenge and fruit of being loving people who love God and our neighbor. It is truly an exciting adventure.
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“Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Warren W. Wiersbe
Today we have a real treat. It is the Feast of St. Bartholomew one of the Twelve Apostles identified also with Nathanael as we have just read in the Gospel: “Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Although at first, he was skeptical he responded to the vigor and enthusiasm of Philip and came to meet Jesus. This is when the first reaction to this encounter was Jesus uttering his now-famous observation: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Most people would agree with our assessment that a person who is duplicitous is also said to be “two-faced.” Bartholomew (Nathanael) however, was clearly free from this type of deception and went on to give great honor and glory to God and the early Church which Jesus founded with his death. But what exactly is a two-faced person? It is basically a person who suffers from a lack of self-identity, self-esteem, and integrity. This person is also usually one who fakes compliments to please whomever they meet. In an effort to be accepted by the entire world, a “two-faced” person will socially accommodate anyone in an attempt to be popular and liked by everyone but then later hurls usually vicious and negative barbs in the safety of the darkness of deceit. But this is totally evil because it lacks truth and sincerity, everything that Jesus is and invites us to imitate as His followers.
What are some of the ways we can be imitators of the Apostles who have given their entire lives to follow Jesus and avoid two-faced people and behavior? First, let us practice honesty in every situation and on every level possible. Little lies become medium-sized and on and on. Although in some circles, being honest means being vulnerable, nothing could be further from the truth. Take the opportunity as often as possible during your day to avoid creating white lies or painting another person’s character as much inferior to yours. You would be surprised how honesty and a strong grasp on the truth actually begins to create a climate of trust and sheds light on elements that are not truthful and good. “Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.” If we truly want to live in peace and have peacefully good nights of sleep, it is best to trust Jesus with all judgments and be as real throughout the day as we are in the silence of our hearts. We simply cannot afford to live in the shadows, the darkness, or remain hidden in the background offering petty commentary about other people because it makes us feel secure. Mold only grows in damp, dark crevices.
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“Don’t worry about those who talk behind your back, they’re behind you for a reason.” Anonymous
Rock Bottom: A place where a person finds themselves a few times throughout their life which can best be described as a horrible place where one feels lost, confused, with the perception that their life is momentarily in shambles. Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? Maybe not. If somebody has hit rock bottom, they are normally called upon to rebuild a part or all of their life in some way. Many do in fact come to this place especially during post-pandemic anxiety and worry which is why the words of the Second Reading are not only important, they are critical: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”
You and I might be surprised to learn that more than a few who have “come back from the bottom” have very astonishing reactions. Although the emotionally, financially, mentally, and the spiritually cruel crash was painful in every way, they had no choice but to face themselves brutally, painfully, and honestly. These awesome souls among us can and do look back with immense gratitude for the incredible gifts that time bestowed upon them instilling a deep trust that Jesus Christ actually did have their back, contrary to external appearances and anemic bank balances. You see, you can never learn that Christ is all you need, until He is all you have. And let us go even one more step further. Although it may sound crazy, if we believed all this, really and truly, we would do it all over again, in a heartbeat, for the incredible insights and growth that are gained through what were most definitely the darkest hours. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (St. Matthew’s Gospel)
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Today we celebrate the great promise that we as the People of God, the Church, are to be lovingly and essentially part of the covenant literally from here to eternity. This brings us to the completely jubilant truth that God wants, desires, and continues to rescue us. However, out of an impetuous and impulsive response to the promise of suffering and carrying the cross, Peter did not want his Lord to suffer: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” This is an example of a fledgling, growing faith in its very early stages. It certainly reminds us of our journey toward the Father. It also assures us that we can find the hope of change in our own personalities when we find that our faith is tested. Let us today with these great helpings of Scripture find the courage and motivation to shake free of meanness and weakness and give Jesus the glory in this life as we wait to see Him face to face in the next. Today we are given the choice of finding the opportunities to grow or be an obstacle to a deeper existence with the Lord. “I will give thanks to your name, because of your kindness and your truth: When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.”
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“Sometimes, you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand back up taller than you ever were.” Caro Vanni
“The angel led me to the gate which faces the east, and there I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east.” Language has the potential of being both descriptive and revealing. For instance, even though the words, “to,” “too” and “two” all sound the same, they mean different things especially in the context of a sentence. With just the difference one “s” your ice cream sundae which you ordered for dessert might become a very hot and unpleasant experience in the desert. Why are we “splitting hairs” about language today? Here is the pivotal question. What is the difference and significance between God and a god? One is the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator, the One True God, and the latter is an image, idol, or other object or possession that is adorned, worshiped and given supreme importance in this life, but not in the next.
“As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Here is the issue before us today is that everyone already knows or is familiar with God or some type of god. Everyone has already set a system and a list of priorities in their lives and whoever occupies the very top position is their God or a god. The key interest here is simple. If we make God our first priority, then we can be assured of a deep level of peace and joy that radiates in and through and all around us. If we have something or someone else in that top position, then we can be relatively promised of a rough turn of events and a life that cannot and will not sustain everlasting happiness.
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“Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the center, as the highway of our lives.” Pope Francis
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you were told that you could pick any activity on this planet and were guaranteed that you would not fail, what would you choose? After scanning through a list that might include everything from building a huge skyscraper to owning the most prosperous and business venture, many of us would want to say we would want our relationships to succeed. They are those essentials that help us get through life and support us with joyous and unselfish love. We would want to love unreservedly if we could be guaranteed complete gain with no scent of failure. And yet, this is the offer which the Prophet Ezechiel proposes for us as brilliantly and famously outlined in our “dry bones” First Reading. “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.”
Here are some positive ways we can move forward in life while accepting this invitation to love and show the love of Christ to all we encounter. One of the finest ways to grow in love is to practice patience especially when it comes to those immediately around us, and yes, this also means our families. It is very easy to become irritated over the tiniest of behaviors when it comes to our own flesh and blood and closest friends but this is precisely where the “work” of love must be accomplished first. Not surprisingly, loving God and loving our neighbor have everything to do with security and a solid, healthy self-image. It involves practicing compassion with one’s self before launching out into the world and encountering many who will certainly need it and can actually grow from it. The most loving people I have ever met have been the most forgiving. I think that about says it all. Let us pray:
“Show me how to love you more with all my heart, all my understanding, and all my strength. Show me how to love my neighbor more than I love myself. Teach me how to remain in Your love and love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Through your Word, I love others deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Thank you Lord for giving me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Love helps me to rejoice in truth and to always protect, trust, hope, and persevere! Root and establish me in Your love for I gain the power to grasp the abundance of Agape love as I seek to discover how deep and how wide it is. Thank you that Your love is being perfected in my day-to-day. I will demonstrate the love of God to all that I encounter today and will receive the anointing to love those who appear to be unlovable. In Jesus’ precious name I pray.” AMEN (Composed by a young woman named Deborah)
“For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.” There’s so much symbolism that goes into this statement that it bears additional explanation and further exploration. It’s referring to making a promise, a vow, and an example on how to keep our word with integrity. It’s similar to receiving an important invitation to any number of significant events and then say and promise that we will be there. We remember how wonderful it feels to be included, to be esteemed, and wanted to attend and the thought that any important moment can only be enriched with our presence. God’s promise to each one of us is simply overwhelmingly beautiful and has the potential of filling even our darkest days with rays of hope.
“The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Here we have an additional and awesome image that opens, if just for a portion of the time, a powerful insight into what the Scriptures mean about living in and for the Kingdom of God here on earth. There is definitely a universal call to holiness that involves a personal relationship with Jesus. “He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.” Jesus makes Himself readily available and presents a message of hope, salvation, and promise but not all are open to that kind of life. “Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’” As a result of that widespread rejection, those whom no one would consider open to the Kingdom are invited and they seem to approach out of a tremendous amount of personal need and circumstance. “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” The integrity of the invitation and the One who is inviting must involve a serious and balanced attitude as to what living in the Kingdom actually means and looks like. Even though many will initially respond in the positive and start well in their walk with the Lord, faith, and hope must be constantly fed by Word and Sacrament that Jesus gives as the mainstay of living in and for the Kingdom. Anything less than that could spell real trouble for the believer who is simply not prepared for the journey. It is tantamount to making a vow that we find horrible to keep and worse not to. When we respond to the Lord’s invitation, let’s make sure we are ready to mean “yes” when we say “yes.”
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“Do not promise to live forever rather promise to forever live while you are alive.” Atticus
It has been assumed that there is no real justice on this side of Heaven. We can look at human history to see a glimpse of a time when slavery, Apartheid, and the horrible Holocaust were all legal, including the legal matters surrounding abortion even to this day. With that in mind, we could conclude that legality is a matter of power rather than justice. This is why we begin our Reflection today by remembering and echoing the constant cry for justice that is common throughout all the Scriptures. “The word of God is living and effective, able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
To bring this discussion to more concrete terms, the Gospel of the day gives us such rich morsels to ponder, wonder, and then to act: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.” The vineyard is a clear metaphor for life in the Kingdom and where we should plant ourselves squarely in it. But there is some element of injustice here, isn’t there? The people who started out early in the morning receive the same wage as those who worked only one hour. Does that seem fair? Of course not. Today’s Reading is not a lesson in macroeconomics. Today’s Reading is about the mysterious life in the Kingdom where not everyone has the same amount of talents, gifts, or even opportunities yet everyone is accountable for what they do with what they have. We see that jealousy and envy are vicious poisons that can kill the life of the Spirit in the one trying to follow Jesus. The wages at stake here (even at the moment of Jesus’ first telling of the parable) are not actual wages for vineyard-laborers, but forgiveness, life, and salvation for believers. Because if we see it like this, it really does not matter when a person receives “these wages” (whether early or late in life) as long as we do our part to find them before the end of the day, the final call, death, that is. The key here is to start working in the Kingdom as soon as possible no matter who is first, second, third, fourth, etc.
A very good friend of mine once made an astounding observation which I never forgot. He said that there will be three different surprises when we get to Heaven after death. We will be surprised by those who are already there, those who are not, and that we ourselves are there. So you see, real justice is served at the end.Leave a comment
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” We have arrived once again, intrepid readers, to one of the most famous of phrases frequently quoted by Christians and philosophers alike concerning the improbability of large beasts of burden being able to squeeze through the tiniest of all crevices. The stunning truth behind this wonderful selection has been treated before in these pages and shall be repeated in a condensed form. Clearly Jesus was not talking about an actual sewing needle but rather about the narrow entrance into the city of Jerusalem, known locally as “the eye of the needle.” This gate was so small that a camel could only be brought through with great difficulty, squeezed through on its knees only after all the load of goods to be sold and traded were removed from its tired back. Unburdened and prayerful is the way to enter the Kingdom.
“…your heart has grown haughty from your riches…” The real thrust of our readings today is quite clear. If we do not practice humility we will grow into haughty people who do not give God or others the time of day or the respect and care that is deserving. The number one cure for pride and a bloated spirit is prayer because we must first acknowledge our dependence and need upon God then realize that we are all on this planet together trying desperately to get to Heaven. The camel for us today becomes a symbol for us to remember to uncomplicate our lives from pettiness and the inordinate desire for possessions and get on our knees in prayer as often as we can. The more we do this, the happier we will be.
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“Trust in God but tie up your camel.” Arabic Proverb
The Gospel of today deserves special mention and time to ingrain its magnificent wisdom into our hearts and minds. Let us take a look at the structure of the passage and take away wonderful lessons of wisdom and walking the Christian journey.
We have questions: “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus rearranges the question to better correspond to truth: “Why do you ask me about the good?”
We respond with deeper faith to Jesus’ lead into the Commandments: “Which ones?”
Jesus takes us to a place of surrender and obedience: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
The young man in the Gospel goes away sad because he had too many distractions, attachments, and self-imposed obstacles. But the voice of Jesus continues to echo in our hearts and minds: “Then come, follow me.”
Now, this is where we can fashion our own personal ending to the story today. Either we take the path of the over-indulged and pre-occupied immature Christian: “You have forgotten God who gave you birth.” Or we can complete the spiritual masterpiece before us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” The choice, as always, is ours.
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“There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.” Shannon L. Alder
“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” It is said that deep within our human nature is a desire and a longing to belong to something greater than ourselves, and this is usually a good thing according to the collective understanding of human experience. But what about those moments in both our personal and global histories where we’ve yielded to selfish temptations or felt the need to be exclusive about the things we have or who we are? This has the potential of creating a “holier than you” attitude which acts more to divide rather than unite people which is diametrically opposed to what God truly wants for the world: His house, His care, His love, and especially His mercy is for us all. “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” There was no apparent shame or exclusivity in today’s Gospel passage. The woman begging the Lord for a miracle to drive the demon of her daughter knew exactly and confidently who it was she was standing in front of and exactly who it was that was listening to her plea. We find that her request was entirely selfless because it wasn’t for her, but for someone who she loved. What this teaches is simple. Our lives would be entirely free from the ravages of shame and guilt if we just were to realize and confirm Jesus as our Lord and Savior and speak confidently before His mighty presence, including confessing our sins and asking for help for every moment along our spiritual journey. Shame can make us feel flawed, bad, or subject to exclusion but our love for God and increased faith can motivate us to be honest with Him, ourselves, and others and make our prayer life one that is rich, integral, and beautiful.
In our night prayers this evening before giving the day our last effort, remember that God is for all of us and not just some of us. If everyone thought and acted this way, imagine the endless possibilities. God does.
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“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford.
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, a celebration, as we have stated so many times before, that recalls the mystery of Jesus Christ and enlightens and strengthens our faith in our salvation which was lovingly and spectacularly achieved and accomplished by the Lord. Our Reflection will take on three distinct and important segments. First, from our First Reading, from the Book of Revelation, we see a magnificent glimpse of Heaven where the Ark, which holds the presence of God is opened immediately followed by a “great sign.” “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Now we could join the very many who have speculated on who this could be but the description of the sign makes it very clear that this is Jesus: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.”
The second point is just as poignant as it is important: “For since death came through man, the resurrection of the dead came also through man.” The beauty and majesty of God’s love for us in sending us His only son Jesus lies in the very act of redeeming our race and giving us the second chance to get back into Heaven. The only way this sacrificial and salvific act could be accomplished was and is by God who becomes one of us to completely assume our human nature and unite it back to God. This is why Mary’s role in our destiny is so blessed and crucial. We believe that such a person whose body held the Body of Christ and physically donated her own DNA to her Son was theological and spiritual. Her body could not have known corruption and was thus assumed into Heaven to await all of us.
Finally, the Feast of the Assumption speaks volumes to our attitude on earth while we wait for our Heavenly call to go home. “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” Truly, the greatest act of love has been presented to us in the Incarnation, God becoming human through the power of the Holy Spirit and the body of the Virgin Mary. The Scriptures speak to the eternal promise which was made to us and our entire history so that no matter where we find ourselves. They teach us that there is always hope, and not only for a better tomorrow but for a life filled with complete joy that will never end. This has the great potential of shaping our attitudes here on earth and spreading joy rather than heartache while we walk the planet. Live a blessed life and be a blessing to everyone you meet today: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”Leave a comment
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe who is best known and revered as the priest, monk, and prisoner of Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the horrific events in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. He was very active in promoting the Immaculate Virgin Mary and was strongly influenced by a vision he had of the Virgin Mary when he was twelve years old: “That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” “The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.” As in the dramatic call to Ezekiel in our First Reading, our Saint of the day likewise received the awesome two-fold call to purity and martyrdom which he embraced completely with his entire life. “How sweet to my taste is your promise!”
“God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.” At the height of perpetrated evil within the death camp where prisoners were chosen to face death by starvation to discourage them from escaping, we can and should easily recognize the sacrifice imbued by the childlike faith and confidence of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He never abandoned his priesthood even as he and many others endured countless days of severe violence and harassment. He willingly volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children and led prayers and remained calm in his final days of life. After twelve days of dehydration and starvation, guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid after which he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death. He died on August 14, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.
While the majority of us may never experience these same event facts in our lifetime, we can and should understand that we are, in our own chosen state of life, called to live a pure, chaste life, and to give witness of our faith wherever and whenever possible. It is the same Jesus through His Mother Mary who inspires us to continue the path of holiness and strength in this life. May we be encouraged by the heroic witness of St. Maximilian Kolbe, now and always.Leave a comment
Violets are truly a bizarre and eccentric kind of flower. If one could say that they have quirks, then one of them must be the fleeting and puzzling aroma that these highly-recognizable purple flowers exude. Without launching into a lesson in botany, it is sufficed to reveal that these flowers contain a ketone compound called ionone, which temporarily desensitizes the receptors of the nose, thus preventing any further scent being detected from the flower until the nerves recover. Admirers will only sense the smell of violets for only a few moments at a time, before the ionone “blinds” the senses and then the aroma miraculously returns just as fragrant as before.
Mark Twain must also have known of this phenomenon as he once commented: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Similarly, it is like the thought about forgiving our neighbor. It may be hard to grasp or comprehend at first but is always pleasant and surprising as it makes its way back to the one who forgives.
“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?” Seven is God’s perfect number, and so the advice that Jesus gives to us today has little to do with quantity but rather with the quality of our intention when we say we forgive. If our desire to unburden another for whatever reason, then it must be done in love. Maybe we could say that the most effective missionary at our disposal is our desire and ability to forgive. Life has the potential of becoming much more pleasant and wonderful when we learn to accept the apology we may never receive. It is a profound virtue.
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“Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” Jonathan Lockwood Huie
“Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark a ‘Thau’ (Tau) on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within it.” Tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which looks like a “t”) and was used symbolically in the Old Testament. It is the sign placed upon the foreheads of the poor of Israel, which would save them from extermination. It was later adopted by the very first Christians, for two reasons: As the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it prophesied the Last Day and had the same function as the Greek letter Omega as it appears in the Book of Revelation: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev. 21:6;22:13). And because it formed the symbol of a cross, which reminded Christians of the Cross on which Christ was sacrificed for the salvation of the world.
“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” For those of today who are looking for meaning and understanding as we move through fifty percent of the week already, what is our mark? What could we say is our “Tau?” We can rest assured that the Old Testament Readings prepared us for the teaching of Jesus in the New. Since it is in God’s word that we must find in our accepted point of reference in life, we have reason to rejoice today. If we believe that Jesus died for our sins, that he will return on the last day, and that we will have to make an account of everything we have done and said in this life, that will certainly “mark” us and prepare us all for the Last Day when Jesus our King will come back. It seems almost too obvious that peaceful, generous, and forgiving people will live this way and that they will be very easy to spot and recognize on Judgment Day. Let’s agree to live like this every day.
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“Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.” Leo Buscaglia
There is a powerful story about a child’s reaction to the way his parents treated his grandfather. His grandfather was living with the family but apparently had some undesirable and understandable trouble getting around through life. Things like spilling food on the floor, knocking over the glass of milk or iced tea, and making grunting sounds while eating that seemed to anger the little boy’s parents which caused them to speak harshly to the old man on a daily basis.
One day, the old man made a huge mess at the table which caused his own son (the boy’s father) to ban him from eating at the table with the rest of the family. The boy’s father brought out a smaller table, which was very hard and uncomfortable, and gave his father a wooden bowl and spoon to keep him from spilling his food on the floor or to at least make any further “messes.” The young boy saw all of this in sadness as his grandfather was demoted to a corner of the dining room with an occasional tear in his eye. Later in the week, the father of that boy heard something in the garage. He went out to see what was happening and was surprised to find his son working on some project, very focused. He called out, “Hey Son, what are you working on there?” His son replied, “Hi Dad! I’m working on the table and bowls that you and mom will eat on when you both get very old.” His father was completely astounded and stupefied by hearing these words that he later discarded the crude little table and bowl and brought his father back to eat with the rest of the family. From then on, they didn’t seem to mind all the spills and noises and that little boy was happy to have grandfather back eating with them for as long he lived.
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” The power of example is as much a part of the teaching process than the very content of the lesson. This is critical to understand how our faith is passed down from one generation to another and how we will maintain our fidelity to the God who loves us so much. Jesus Himself in the Gospel continues to expound on this very necessary requirement in our journey through life itself: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
A man once wrote to his teenage son: “God is the reason why even in pain, I smile, in confusion I understand, in betrayal I trust and in fear I continue to fight.” These are not just words if they are put into practice and lived as best as possible. You and I must remember even long after this life is over, that our children, students, and friends will not follow our advice that they will indeed follow and remember our example.Leave a comment
“Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Have you ever noticed that generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little bit generous? Many people would agree. “Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” Generous people tend to be happy, more relaxed, willing to work hard, kind, free, and have better quality relationships and exude confidence: “The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Here is the wonderful irony of this comforting Monday to help us move into the week ahead: The more you give, the more you have. Dying to selfishness brings forth an immense flow of love and real life that knows no rival. And all of this is because of Jesus. He died to set us free and give us true freedom which is beyond measure or value, especially in a very selfish world.
However, there is a catch and a warning, severe in every way. We must be super-careful that we do not become generous people just in order to receive something in return even if that be recognition. We must learn to give as Jesus did. Parents are uniquely exposed to this challenge more than most but all of us can and should have a share in this deep call to experience generosity from both sides of the equation. “…but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
What do we receive in this life in exchange for generosity? We witness happiness, reach a deeper understanding of life, feel the love of Jesus, and receive what money could never buy, a world made more beautiful. Isn’t that the point of living here?
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“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” John Wesley
“Then the LORD said to him, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.’” It can be easily argued that today’s Scripture readings are not about natural disasters, but they are, in fact, about personal, spiritual, and emotional turmoil. At one point or another in most peoples’ lives, there are crises and problems that be compared to the kinds of disasters on the planet. Our world is shaken to its core, unexpected problems beseech us, and all that we dreamed and hoped goes up in smoke. Things like these are bound to happen, and can almost be expected because of that fact. What is not naturally anticipated is to automatically blame God, tell people that you “have a problem with the Almighty,” or because things haven’t evolved according to your own personal playbook, that God must be mean, distant, or even worse, does not exist at all. The Disciples in the Gospel had a certain experience with this and an understandable predicament which would later become a teachable moment for all of this today: “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.”
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” It never fails to amaze how often a struggling individual will try to understand the mystery of evil while rejecting the Ultimate Good. Quite simply put, you cannot understand darkness without light, cold without heat, and, especially for our spiritual purposes here, goodness without evil, or, personally, disasters. The groundwork of our lives must be set early or at least properly. We must have faith. Faith in the person of Jesus determines everything and thus the lack or weakness thereof spells a disaster that no one should ever want to face alone. Pray today that God will increase your faith even as the storms, earthquakes, and fires rage on. It is the only way.
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“He who has faith has… an inward reservoir of courage, hope, confidence, calmness, and assuring trust that all will come out well – even though to the world it may appear to come out most badly.” B. C. Forbes
“Are you not from eternity, O LORD, my holy God, immortal?” In 1811, an unknown author wrote a beautiful hymn entitled “What Wondrous Love is This?”And when you think about it, it’s message truly raises an amazing question that can still be addressed today: What kind of magnificent love would it take to inspire and motivate God to send His Son Jesus Christ to be born in a filthy manger, to live a poor life, and then be crucified for our sins? Perhaps a line from the Responsorial Psalm helps us answer this profound question: “The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of distress.” The third verse of the hymn then explodes with the enthusiastic joy of the awareness that is brought to the one who understands this gift and cannot help but be changed forever: “To God and to the Lamb, who is the great I AM, while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing, while millions join the theme, I will sing!” This, too, is underscored by the Alleluia Verse: “Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”
This wondrous, wonderful love reveals the height and depth of such a love that carries us beyond our life here on earth to an eternal reward and life in Heaven. In the Gospel, a desperate man brought his own son for a miracle and he was not disappointed: “Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely.” If and when our response to His wondrous love is returned with even the simplest of faith, miracles abound. Let us move forward in this life with new resolve and new hope. Darkness cannot and will not extinguish what we have been given. We will sing: “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be, And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on, and through eternity I’ll sing on!” This is because nothing is impossible for God.Leave a comment
“Celebrate your feasts, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For nevermore shall you be invaded by the scoundrel; he is completely destroyed.” As simple as it sounds, the real way to face all of the troubles of life lies squarely and assuredly in the total awareness that God is complete control of our lives and that He has provided for each and every eventuality that will befall us. One of the most memorable homilies I have ever heard was the same one our pastor preached every New Year’s Eve and Day. He reminded us that in the upcoming year we will have our worst day and our best day and the good news for all of us was that God is already there for both.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” All this is great news for us who wish to follow Christ all the way to Heaven. It also addresses the quality of carrying the cross that we have been assessed and given. Some of us like to complain or make things worse when we suffer which is not usually a good witness to the Gospel. When we face powerlessness in this life perhaps reviewing a few possible approaches to our walk with the Lord in hopes of making our Christian journey the best it can be to:
Calm Down: Yes, the appearance of powerlessness can almost always create a ripe breeding ground for anger. And when we can’t do anything about a certain situation, we turn to the only things we do have control over – which are our emotions. Anger is a volatile and perhaps the most destructive of all the vices. Unbridled, it can destroy us.
Discover Your Own Real Motivations: Why do we want justice? Is it really revenge? Justice is a virtue, and revenge is a perversion of justice.
Consider the Source: Who lied about us? Who has besmirched our reputation? Whenever we hear praise or harsh criticism, we must first consider its source. What someone says about us is never more important than the one who said it.
Weigh Carefully the Consequences: This is where prudence rallies into our discussion. Will I bring more attention to myself and my own emotional spasm?
Wait: Remember Jesus waited three days after His brutal murder to set things straight. Waiting and watching are deep spiritual exercises that separate us from the beasts of this world. My Italian friends put it best when they say, “Let God handle the need for revenge. He is much better at it.”
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“We all have a cross to carry. I have to carry my own cross. if we don’t carry our crosses, we are going to be crushed under the weight of it.” Jim Caviezel
Do you realize that you and I have been placed on this earth for a specific reason and purpose? Every day becomes an opportunity to strive and realize that reality, especially when things look dark and bleak. If I have a purpose in life, and I do, then is everything that is happening around me today a part of that reality? Should I remain focused on today’s messages and lessons, or is focusing on today’s messages and lessons keeping me away from fulfilling my true purpose and direction? And if it is, what can I do to move on quickly and return to the correct path as quickly as possible? This is certainly a very interesting and important example that we can help us to understand transformation and transfiguration. In our First Reading, the vision was more than remarkable: “His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire.”
“We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Jesus becomes transfigured to prepare the disciples and all of us for His Resurrection which in turn prepares us for our Resurrection, our ultimate transfiguration. “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” This complete transformative moment when we see Jesus as He exists in total glory in Heaven is both an inspiration and goal while we walk and continue our spiritual journeys. We must find true happiness in this world to make a suitable place in our souls and hearts for the message of the Gospel of Jesus.
Some of the most unhappy people in the world have made it their life’s mission to make as many people around them as miserable as they are with every ounce of strength they can muster. Surely, this can’t be news to us. Remember, only wounded people wound people. Our best stories will come from our struggles. The seeds of our successes are in our failures. Keep standing. The seasons will change. There is no such thing as a storm that lasts forever. On this Feast of the Transfiguration, let us all ask God to help each and every one of us continue to uncover and discover our purpose in this great adventure we call life. He proclaimed as much today in the Gospel: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
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“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Pablo Picasso
“With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you.” When we think about people’s response concerning God’s love for us, we might say that there are at least two main groups. There are those who almost casually assume that God loves them and then give it very little thought and those who actually doubt His love. Both of these camps base their assertions on their own lives and their particular circumstances. We can also safely ascertain that these two different approaches produce two very different kinds of people.
There are some people who were raised in homes where they were shown tremendous love and acceptance more times than not and have very little problem believing that God’s love and mercy were all around them for the majority of their lives. We might say that these people exude confidence, peace, and acceptance of others. They clearly believe the following: “The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.” Even in times of trouble, these people can find joy and blessings everywhere they look. There is always God’s loving presence and beauty in ordinary things even when they hit rock bottom, because, after all, it is rock.
“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Can you possibly imagine the very different outcome if the woman to whom Jesus addressed His mysterious comments about scraps had been a person of the second group of people who are somehow predisposed to doubt God’s love? Disastrous. And yet, we probably know people who never see the silver lining in things and only expect the darkness. This teaches us to always be patient with those whose faith is weak and precarious. And to invite people to see the Lord in everything we do and never criticize or condemn them. Just look at what Jesus did for the one who never gave up and never gave in to her doubts: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Trust in the miracle that is within you. God loves you forever. He sent His most cherished and powerful messenger and took that message to the cross and beyond.
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“Doubts and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer and the large mind transcend.” Helen Keller
We have noted many times in our Reflections that more than a few Old Testament accounts of people and events tell of a foreshadowing of that which is yet to come. For example, Moses told the Jewish people of another Law-Giver, like him, who would come later and who would require the people’s total allegiance and obedience. The Psalms describe the experiences of David and yet they also speak of David’s Greater Son, the Messiah. Perhaps one of the best-known prophets is Jeremiah wrote extensively about a New Covenant that would follow the horrible exile of God’s people. Jeremiah used many images and references that later Jesus would echo and apply to the New New Testament of Salvation history. “Thus says the LORD: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; City shall be rebuilt upon hill, and palace restored as it was.”
In both the Old and New Testaments, wisdom bursts forth from a person of the Kingdom like the first streams of light at dawn. People are not wise because they possess a particular accent or vocal training. Inflections in voice and dramatic readings do not ensure the presence of wisdom in any human being. No, that must come from the very recesses and depths of the heart and soul of a person as was demonstrated and taught by Jesus in our Gospel today: “All these evils come from within and they defile.” Our fellow humans sometimes say ridiculous things because they do not stop first to think about the consequences of their words. They whine and complain because that is seemingly all they know how to describe life. We who follow Jesus must listen to His wise counsel today and make the obvious conclusion that if what is within us makes us wise or defiled, then by all means let us invite Jesus to live there first. Then whatever we say should sound a lot like Him.
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“When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.” Haruki Murakami
“Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.” In today’s Gospel, we have all been gifted with one of the more famous and breathtaking moments in all of the Scriptures, or at least in the top ten. Try to imagine the scene where hurricane-force winds are blowing mercilessly against a tiny boat while the crashing sounds of the thunder in the distance are only rivaled by the crashing of the waves. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Here we can picture the drama unfolding in four distinct phases:
This process is the quintessential outline and summary of our spiritual lives. We face our storms of doubt, we call upon Jesus, He makes His loving presence known and empowers us to believe, then we doubt again and the cycle starts all over again but each time it does, we are actually closer and closer to Jesus who never leaves our ship of life.
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” This raises the age-long question that has faced every Christian since Jesus first walked the earth. Why do we doubt and how do we deal with this very human and expected experience? First, doubt is a natural process of every intellectual and moral process. It is almost necessary because it is a way of strengthening our ideals and beliefs but it must never overtake the very treasure we are trying to discover. And secondly, we must realize that doubt is part of the natural growing pains of faith, and having said that, it is also a mystery. No one human being could ever totally grasp the fullness of who God is, and so understandably, there will be gaps in our understanding because of our limitations. But gaps should not be used as an excuse for abandoning Jesus or to question why we are here on this planet. Perhaps the greatest spiritual gift we need when confronted with doubt is humility. Humility reminds us that faith is a powerful gift that must be opened slowly and without pretense. This is precisely how we run to Jesus on the water and everywhere else.
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“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” Brene Brown
“He said to them in reply, ‘Give them some food yourselves.’” This is perhaps some of the greatest Scriptural advice we can receive in this brave new month which we have been presented in the Readings today when we are invited to look around our lives and see those who are in need and who are literally calling out for help and sustenance. “Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all.” The Lord’s promise to each and every one of us today is complete with His desire that all be fed and all be comforted. His wonderful invitation also includes a personal guarantee: I will be there among you when you act in My Name.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Love is everything. Love is what drove the Son of Man from Heaven to earth to suffer, die, and rise on the third day for all of our sins. Love is what moves the wheels of history and our own lives to the great, bright promise of immortality. We are hence convinced and motivated by the truth that we all have a mission and the power from the Holy Spirit to accomplish it: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Today and every day we will encounter a large field of life filled with opportunities to serve and be the Light of Christ to others. This is how we feed each other. Let us all be that “movable feast” for others to meet the Lord Jesus.
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“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” Harold S. Kushner
“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” What a truly amazing Gospel we have here today. It describes the death and martyrdom of John the Baptist who occupies a number of wonderful categories which include a cousin to Jesus, the Last Prophet, and the outstanding voice that calls us all to listen and be ready for the greatest news we could ever receive. Today’s Reading makes this an even more thought-provoking Saturday, the first day of the month, as we recall how great it is to love the Lord and follow Him with every fiber of our being. John would later express this very same desire when he stated that he himself should decrease while Jesus must increase. That once we come to realize and accept our purpose here on earth, our lives will become much simpler and have the potential of even greater holiness.
“Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Here we see the importance of John the Baptist’s role and that it could never be overplayed or misunderstood. His role helps to form one of the most significant members of the cloud of witnesses which helps us all to look intently at Jesus and to never let our focus stray. This Reading should remind us to give it our all, to make the extra effort to be the best that we can be to please the Lord and that we should be heartened by the fact that God always prepares a way for us to find Jesus and stay ever-so-close to Him in this life and the next. That our call should always be to let Jesus increase in our lives and for our selfishness to decrease. And with the help of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful Eucharist, success in this field can always be within our reach.
The death of John the Baptist reminds us that following the Lord also has a deep price and that sometimes people are unwilling to consider or offer. But in the final analysis, we want to be counted among those who are faithful and loving and true to our calling. And when nothing else will do: “Rescue me out of the mire; may I not sink! may I be rescued from my foes, and from the watery depths.”
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“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” Erma Bombeck
“Whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing. Perhaps they will listen and turn back, each from his evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them for their evil deeds.” Here on the last day of July (the dawning of a new month) and the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we have the awesome juxtaposition of biblical bookends which is truly amazing when we think about the composite unity of the Bible. The Old Testament prepares us for the New Testament, and the New Testament fulfills the Old. Jeremiah in our First Reading sets the stage for Jesus in the Gospel. Here we see that God has commanded him to speak to His people because they are going astray. The LORD tells him not to worry about their reaction because, in His understanding, they will either change or they will perish. Unfortunately, it did not go well for Jeremiah as the people laid hold of him and cried: “You must be put to death!”
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” Enter Jesus thanks to St. Matthew for us today: We read that the Lord returned to the place where He was raised. He was able to see the people who He probably played with as a child and/or worked side by side, but the reaction was overwhelmingly awful. We are unaware of the personal reaction Jesus experienced because of this hometown rejection, but we do know the consequences: “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” What a terrible chapter made only worse if you and I repeat it.
There are at least several startling applications that we can take away from today’s Readings. First, we are called upon to speak the truth in the most respectful, Christ-like, and heartfelt way possible. For some, this is easy to do, but for others who may often shy away from confrontation, this effort can be more challenging or seemingly ghastly. Secondly, when we hear the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or disturbing it may be, we must take the time to remember that we are put here on this earth for good reasons and purposes, to grow, to be more like Christ, to use every opportunity to face what is true about ourselves, to reckon with our actions, and if necessary, admit our faults and change our behavior. The sobering truth is if we can’t, we might be appropriately identified with those who do not want to hear the truth simply because they do not want their illusions destroyed.
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“The truth hurts but silence kills.” Mark Twain
“Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.” Have you ever heard someone say that a person has “feet of clay?” It is not very popular in present-day media usage however, it is quite full of meaning and can shed some light, although indirectly, as we approach the end of the month tomorrow. The phrase refers to a weakness or a hidden flaw in a character who is greatly admired and respected. People are said to have “feet of clay” if they are revealed to have blemishes or defects that most people were unaware of. We see this in the revelations of heroes and otherwise notable people about whom we may have had a too grandiose and over-qualified opinion. We wanted to believe in someone greater than ourselves. But you see, here is the problem. The more we expect what is unrealistic about a person the greater we will be disappointed. Understandably, it seems as if we are made completely of clay and not just our feet: Yes, the only stainless One among us is the One for whom we wait.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.” All of life is a dress rehearsal for the last day of our lives. There are more than a handful of people who say they know how we are going to die: “You are going to die the same way you lived.” Although there is much truth in that, we must not forget that every day presents an opportunity to grow in holiness and happiness and share that wealth with all people. Specifically, dear readers, this means that we approach every hurdle, each struggle, all conflicts whether internal or external and apply the message of love found in the Gospel and in the heart of our merciful Savior Jesus.Leave a comment
“If you repent, so that I restore you, in my presence you shall stand; If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece.” Mid-week in our walk with the Lord Jesus, asking Him daily as we do for guidance and instruction on how to proceed in the great adventure we call life, we hear of the need you and I have to repent, even daily. Perhaps this is because it truly causes a disposition to arise in our hearts that makes things like forgiveness, hope, and hospitality to others much more available and even easy. You see, when we feel slighted, unappreciated, or even taken for granted, the only real and healing avenue open to us is not revenge or sulking, but to truly reckon with ourselves about who we are and why we do the things we do. Only then can we truly be that vehicle in the world for peace and forgiveness, His “mouthpiece,” if you will. We can understand and agree with the Psalmist, who is so insistent with the only recourse we have, when we have made that tumultuous leap of complete trust: “God is my refuge on the day of distress.”
“Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].” The benefits of this leap of faith are then made crystal clear and even more desirable in the Gospel today. The scene there is similar to the many experiences that we have had when we become anxious and worried about too many things. There is sometimes sorrow, then doubt, and sometimes there is darkness. This is certainly true today in the Gospel with the two famous sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha begins with Jesus suggesting that somehow Jesus doesn’t really care or have any interest in her plight: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” Although the answer Jesus gave her may seem even more distant and detached, it is full of wisdom and understanding and a call for more courage and faith. “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” This has become overwhelmingly critical in their lives as they experience the tragic death of their brother Lazarus. In the other Gospel passage for today, the next conversation Martha has with the Lord takes a bizarre turn when she suggests that all of the tragedy in their lives could have been avoided if the Lord had just planned his schedule a little differently. However, before Jesus had a chance to respond to that statement, Martha quickly added that no matter what the reason or course of events, she was ready to make that leap of faith and trust Him with all her heart and mind as to the outcome. Then Jesus reveals why the trusting moment is pivotal for all of us: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
It seems that the irony of hospitality and a generous life depends not so much on the person who receives our love but is rather the quality of love in our hearts. A hospitable person loves all kinds of people and wants to be sure that no one in the room feels like a stranger. Indeed, the great irony of a hospitable man is that people say of him, “He’s never met a stranger.” Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?Leave a comment
Have you ever wondered about the “science of crying?” It seems that over a long period of human development, we have come to a point where our tears are produced from certain specific-oriented glands due to an authentic connection with the world. Tears are a positive representation of who we are. They demonstrate our deep connections with God, others, and our very selves and, at the same time, allow us to visibly and proudly celebrate this keenly human activity and, by the way, are scientifically proven to make us feel better. This takes us to the scene in our First Reading today where the great Prophet Jeremiah is clearly having a very bad day: “Let my eyes stream with tears day and night, without rest, Over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people, over her incurable wound.”
Tears also follow us into the Gospel of the day, into a scene where Jesus dramatically paints a tearful and painful experience at the end of the age: encounters quite a bit of this emotional display: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” From these two selections, we can safely assume that tears are normal, reflective of faith, or a serious lack thereof and have the potential of expressing an enormous amount of comforting reality especially when it comes to our life in the Spirit with Jesus. Tears also announce to us our entire and eternal need for God, especially when the world is harsh and cold and dark. We can and should agree with Psalm today: “Remember not against us the iniquities of the past; may your compassion quickly come to us, for we are brought very low.”
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“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” Washington Irving
“The LORD said to me: Go buy yourself a linen loincloth.” What could be so important about a small piece of an undergarment? This, of course, is a completely understandable, rational question but the real query should sound something like this: to what mystery is this little thing pointing? As we read further into the First Reading we realize more and more clues that will answer our curious minds. You see, God was very specific in his analogy of the loincloth to the people of Judah and Israel. He chose these people to be His own. However, after some time and relentless social temptations, they developed harmful pride and hubris which inevitably led them all astray like sheep without a shepherd, becoming slaves to their desires and throwing the love in their hearts that belonged to their loving God and began worshiping the idols of the strange demands of deities from surrounding cultures. Their ears and eyes were closed, and they could not hear or see anything but their own personal enjoyments. Pride rotted their hearts leading to horrible and unfortunate neglect in their relationship with God. Pointedly, the very same way that Jeremiah ignored and neglected his loincloth, the people pushed God away and then, almost like Adam in Eve in Genesis, hid from God in the similar way that Jeremiah hid the cloth: “This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods to serve and adore them, shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing.”
The Gospel continues this stately theme by bringing us even more little, otherwise and seemingly unimportant goods to help us discover the depths of the mysteries which Jesus wishes with all His Heart to share with us a tiny mustard seed and a few sprinkles of yeast: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Both the seed and the portion of yeast are very small things in comparison to so many other elements in nature and yet, with time, attention, and great hope, they make a huge difference. These little things are great treasures of faith believing that Christ walks among us, loving us, holding us and when we truly we approach life with this in mind and heart, we will find our way home to Heaven. As we begin yet another week in this journey we call life, let us find Jesus in the little things with great hope. He is found there and when we find Him, we shall never be the same.
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“Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It is the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.” Sharon Draper
What happens when we cry, exactly? A salty fluid full of protein, water, mucus, and oil is released from a gland in the upper, outer region of the eye. This fluid is what we call tears. According to most researchers, it all starts in the cerebrum where sadness is registered and then, we begin to cry. Emotional tears are common among us when we see something terribly sad or suffer a personal loss. The phrase “having a good cry” suggests that crying can actually make us feel physically and emotionally better, which many people believe. Some scientists agree with this theory, asserting that chemicals build up in the body during times of elevated stress. These researchers believe that emotional crying is the body’s way of ridding itself of these toxins and waste products.
This analogy should signal a deep sigh of relief for all of us who are attempting to keep the Lord Jesus right in front of our eyes especially as we begin a brand new month of our journey toward Heaven. It is clear that we suffer and it also is a great effort to lift those groans towards the only One who can help us in our moments of crisis, sadness, and pain: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
“When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Interestingly enough, when the oyster has an irritation seep into its shell, it too produces a type of tear which the civilized world calls a pearl. Imagine something so precious caused by discomfort. It is a good image for the spiritual life because it is the deep and lasting confidence in the Lord that He has everything in His sacred hands and every eventuality planned and ready to bring into existence. Nothing is more valuable in this life than the faith that can withstand every crisis, disappointment dark night. This is why the Gospel expresses the desire to forsake everything to get that awesome bead and never lose it. This is what it means to follow Jesus. It produces a pearl of great price as a result of unrelenting hope in the face of pain. People die for such clarity. Cowards run from everything that moves.
As we begin this last week of July and anticipate the blessings and challenges of the new month next Saturday, let us ask the Lord for the courage to enter the fields of the future with great hope and faith in Jesus who has already defeated evil and has planted a harvest of hope in our hearts remembering that, as the famous song echoes, “I never promised you a rose garden.” Thank you, Jesus, for everything.
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We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination. C.S. Lewis
Over eighty years ago, one of the most famous movies ever produced was initially released to its first of many millions of movie-goers. This is, of course, the musical fantasy film of The Wizard of Oz and according to the Library of Congress, it is the most seen film in movie history. Believing that most, if not all of our readers know the basic plot, it is not necessary to review the unfolding scenes of this timeless wonder but suffice to say, for our spiritual purposes here, that there is a lot to learn from the famous journey to Oz, and back. The basic premise is quite simple: all that you need for this life, you already have. “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” The miracle of the Incarnation, that is, the Word becoming Flesh in Jesus, has bestowed on all of us a remarkably present miracle that lies deep within us and is destined to grow and mature through own Baptism and constant communion with the same God who has loved us so very much. “For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Our goal in life, then, is to believe that this treasure exists and then to spend every waking moment that we have to dig and discover the beauty that has been placed deep with our very being.
“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” The treasure map, if you will, will be read much easier and with much more clarity with the attitude of service and generosity to each other while we walk this path together. Inviting and cultivating the disposition of service to each other brings about the transformation in the human spirit that readily and specifically finds the great treasure of Jesus present within us and willing to share that happiness with those with whom we have been given. This is so because this is precisely why Jesus was sent to us, as true God and true man, to begin the total transformation of our society and world. However, this work must continue with us and invigorate our desire to get up every morning and go forth: “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
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“Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.” Albert Einstein
“The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.” It is safe to say that our most trusted, cherished, and meaningful relationships on this planet begin with the assumption that the more I know about a person, the more I can love them. And then, conversely, the more I love them, the more I want to know about them. Today we have reached such a moment: the goal of these reflections, accompanied by the Readings of the Day, is precisely to move us all closer to the person of Jesus Christ so that we may have a life-giving, and an ongoing-life-changing relationship with Him and never let it go.
We have been blessed on this most gracious end-of-the-week (workwise, for some) with two, not just one, insightful images of the Lord that together bring about the knowledge of the Christ which has the potential to increase our love for Him.
“Hear the parable of the sower.” What is about the gardener (sower) and the shepherd that reveal some new detail about Jesus for us today? Both professions must be heroically patient, understanding, and diligent. We could say that both gardeners and shepherds take a certain glow of success over those they care for. And perhaps the most telling is they both have to fight the enemies of the field, disease, flesh-eating insects, and sheep-eating wolves. And although the gardener may not necessarily die for his crops or flowers, the shepherd certainly is ready to do so for his flock.
Take some time today and perhaps this weekend to reflect on these images so that by Sunday, the Lord may crown your yearnings with a surprise!
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“God always has perfect timing and a balance, supernatural sense of nature. He knows exactly when to act, how to act, and when not to. Just think about it, God has prepared for every event in your life and even better, He is already there!” Caro Vanni
God speaks in our First Reading in an almost wistful, forlorn tone as if He has lost someone very close to His heart this fine day: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, Following me in the desert, in a land unsown.” The Lord remembers the zeal and dedication of His chosen Israel in the early days after their redemption from Egypt. However, and almost eight hundred years later, things have changed for the worst. Horrible idolatry and willful rejection of the commandments now characterize the nation and Jeremiah’s heart is broken, as is God’s. You see it seems that the happiness, the joy, the excitement, and the zeal of belonging to God has been sorely forgotten and like a spouse who senses the slowly developing distance in a once spirited relationship growing painfully obvious, we sense the sadness of what could have been because, after all, it once was. Do any of us remember the joy and excitement that filled our souls when we first accepted Christ? Do we remember how the love of God was poured into our hearts and we couldn’t wait to tell everyone about Jesus? The Scriptures today clearly reveal to us that The Lord remembers. God still remembers the devotion of our youth and is at times grieved by our passing forgetful nature and our silence. How does anyone recapture the initial spark and joy of any relationship that began so strong and seems to be going out like a bed of coals on a cold and rainy night?
“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” The answer is simple: honesty. Similarly, as in our human relationships, we must face God in the very depths of our hearts and tell him everything. Something like, “I miss you and I realize that I have moved, not you!” Transparency coupled with integrity are priceless tools and assets in every relationship and they can be the difference between a full and happy life with God and others and just a fading memory of what used to be so awesome and fulfilling and now over. “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.” Today we pledge to be open and honest with God and assure Him that we know he loves us and that we will do all we can today to rekindle and keep the fire of faith glowing especially when and how we interact with others. How great to be young again.
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“If you tell the truth, it becomes a part of your past. If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.” John Spence (poster in a classroom)
“I sought him but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves.” I have often wondered what significance there might be between the incident in St. Luke’s Gospel when Joseph and Mary “lost” Jesus and later “found” Him in the Temple – and the experience of St. Mary Magdalene in the Gospel today. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them, and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:41-51) Mary Magdalene: “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”
What the two Scriptural references clearly have in common is the simple fact that finding Jesus has everything to do with where you look for Him. Mary and Joseph thought that their Son was among all the crowds with whom they were traveling and only at the end of their frenetic search did they actually find him in the Temple. St. Mary Magdalene thought only to look in the tomb for her Risen Lord when it would have been the very last place to find Him, that is, among the dead.
On today which is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, you and I have been presented with the opportunity to experience, if just in a spiritual or even symbolic way, the search for God that has been chronicled throughout the Old Testament, right through the Gospels and all the way to the outstanding hopeful days that followed the Resurrection of Christ. That search goes on right here, right now.
All the great Saints are great precisely because they have longed for Christ more than for life itself, continued their search even though at times it may have come up empty, and found Him because they looked in the right place. May you be great in your search.
Let us pray:
Saint Mary Magdalene,
woman of many sins, who by conversion
became the beloved of Jesus,
thank you for your witness
that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.
You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that someday
I may share in the same everlasting joy.
Amen.Leave a comment
From the very beginning of time and the start of God’s Revelation, that is, the beautiful unfolding of who He is for us, we have received beginning in the Old Testament, the notion and the nature of the kind of deep and lasting relationship the Lord has always wanted for us. Like a good earthly father who wants to give his own family all he has for love and survival, we look to our Heavenly Father Who does the same. When we realize and accept this truth, we can easily join Micah the Prophet in his moment of pure joy: “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance?”
Today’s Gospel brings closer to us the moment where Jesus makes this intimate relationship so much more clear and meaningful: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Jesus was not minimizing His relationship with His mother through these words. He was expanding it. He hungers, through Divine Love, to include all of us in the “family circle” of God. In doing so, He invites us on the journey home. In this exchange, Jesus really opens up the interior importance and meaning of the motherhood of Mary, and through that relationship, the interior meaning of all family relationships. The Church is a family. Understanding this insight, and living it, is a key to a deep and wonderful spiritual life. Our vocation is fundamentally about relationship and communion. All who are incorporated into the Body of Jesus Christ through Baptism begin even now to experience the intimacy, (expressed in family relationships), that is the essence of the very life of the Most Holy Trinity.
Through His life, death, and Resurrection, Jesus opens a way for every man, woman, and child, who chooses to do the will of His Father, to enter into the very family circle of God through truly living our lives in Him. My friends, we are His family and He is ours. Think about just for a minute especially when the day gets a little tough and lonely.
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“Cherish your family connections. They are one of God’s greatest ways of demonstrating his love and fellowship.” Norman Vincent Peale
“Hear what the LORD says: Arise, present your plea before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice!” Those who are into music and the recognition some musicians receive for their craft are certainly familiar with The Grammy Awards. They are named such because of the miniature gramophone affixed to the coveted prize. This moreover has its roots from the trademark image originated from a painting by Francis Barraud titled His Master’s Voice famously showing a cute dog apparently listening intensely to the original record player and then later adopted as the trademark by the Victor Talking Machine Company. According to available publicity material, the dog, a terrier named Nipper, had originally belonged to Barraud’s brother, Mark. When Mark Barraud died, Francis inherited Nipper, with a cylinder phonograph and recordings of Mark’s voice. Francis noted the peculiar interest that the dog took in the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the horn, and conceived the idea of committing the scene to canvas.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” What a powerful image we have been given today as we begin a brand new week in walking with the Lord Jesus! To be so attuned to the voice of Christ and to be so drawn and driven in listening to it no matter what the cost is the goal of all who want to find their way to Heaven with the great and powerfully loving assistance of the Good Shepherd. However, this search must not become one of superstition and doubt: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” There is no website, Twitter account, or Facebook page that accomplishes the value and depth of speaking and listening directly with the Lord in prayer strengthened by our daily dose of the Scriptures and Eucharistic nourishment. Let us decide this week to take the time and listen intensely to our Master’s voice. He is always ready to start a conversation.
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“God is whispering to you. Those are his arms you feel. Trust Him. That is His voice you hear. Believe Him.” Max Lucado
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” In the natural world, weeds wreak havoc on the land. They reduce farm and forest productivity, invade crops, smother pastures, and in some cases harm livestock. They aggressively compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight, resulting in reduced crop yield and poor crop quality. They also hide the very core of crops especially at the all-important harvest time so the collection of crops is incomplete. They have also been known to hide the symptoms of pests and diseases that will stress plants and crops and decrease the yields. For these very pointed reasons and many others, they make an awesome example and point to the essential nature of evil that Jesus provides for all of us today. Allowing evil into our lives keeps us from truly being happy and fulfilled. The very nature of evil essentially blocks all the goodness that can come from our faith in action by confusing and trapping the light that is willfully desiring to emanate form us especially in our dealings with one another.
“And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” We must accept the truth that our free will stays intact so that we may love with a free and giving heart. That being said, we must also accept the fact that evil seeks only to destroy and sabotage that freedom. But as we know and believe, there is always hope because of the One who defeated death and evil forever: “The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower; all who come to him will live for ever.” As we continue through this eventful summer month and anticipate the blessings and challenges of the days to come, let us ask the Lord for the courage to enter the fields of the future with great hope and faith in Jesus who has already defeated evil and has planted a harvest of hope in our hearts. Thank you, Jesus, for everything!
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“The world is a dangerous play to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Albert Einstein.
“The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” From time to time, we are given a unique perspective into the disputes which Jesus faced while He walked the earth. Today in the Gospel we find Him in the midst of several disputes with the Pharisees. These men were part of a movement of spiritual renewal among the Jews at the time of Christ. The Pharisees were very concerned about the national identity of Israel, rooted in the covenant between God and the Chosen People. The Torah (or Law), contained in the first five books of the Old Testament, gave concrete instructions on how to live the Covenant faithfully. Although they seemed to have meant well, the problem with their position was that their teaching actually robbed the Law – the Word of God, after all – of its dynamism and life-giving power. “Blind guides,” Jesus calls them (see Matthew 15:14; 23:16, 24). The Pharisees’ attitude compromised their capacity to grasp Jesus’ teaching on the liberating power of the Law: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
How should we understand Jesus’ reference to a bruised reed and a smoldering wick? We can safely agree with many biblical scholars that this does not mean that any of us should be harsh, demanding, or manipulative with weak and wounded people. Jesus uses this image to teach us about the new covenant that he inaugurates. You see, a complete and total conversion is necessary in order to live in the Kingdom and to maintain the level of fidelity and love of God to move forward in life. Without proper care, our souls can become like “those who plan iniquity and work out evil on their couches,” as we heard in our First reading of today. The great news today is that the Lord is always at hand, offering us his grace through the sacraments to repair what is broken, strengthen what is weak, and fortify what is healthy.
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“A Pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself but a spiritual person is easy on others and hard on himself.” Caro Vanni
“Thus says the LORD: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.” While it is true that none of us have much control over the exact time and date when we have to leave the earth and face Jesus face to face, we do in fact have a remarkable amount of say and sway over how we leave and what impact we wish to have on our families and those we held dear in this life. The First Reading soberly reminds us as the Lord tried to remind King Hezekiah that now is the best time to place our house in order before it is too late. No one, of course, wants to think about the end and how overwhelming or frightening it might be but it is clear from the wisdom of the Scriptures that facing our mortal departure helps us to face the daily crosses that we must carry in order to make it to the Promised Land after our death. But how do we accomplish this in this life? Perhaps we could consider some very poignant and solid ways to at least be thinking about ways we can begin this type of life management.
“Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.” As responsible people, we must be careful about how we manage our spending and especially how we take care and feeding those in our immediate family. This also means making sure our finances are in order, having sufficient instructions about the event of catastrophic illness and the subsequent funeral plans, and making amends with relatives who may have been estranged or at odds. “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.” Practice this every day: every morning is a gift ready to open so give God thanks for that awesome gift. At the end of each day, count the good things and the happy memories and avoid becoming sad-faced about any regrets. Keep your house and life in order because you never know when Jesus, our special guest, will make His last appearance.Leave a comment
“The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just you make level.” Our Scriptures for this beautiful day open up with this pleasant image of a smooth ride or at least one with the least discomfort. After reflecting upon this for a while, some of our readers may think otherwise. For many, acting justly and fairly especially in the workplace and among those who exercise authority over us, the experience of following Jesus in the Gospel’s way of life may bring us persecution and even hatred. As much as this may be true, more emphatic in some tense situations than in others, it is the big picture and “long haul” of life that must be brought into focus here. We are called today and every day not to “sweat the small stuff,” and then quickly realize that in God’s mind and heart, “it’s all small stuff.”
“Let this be written for the generation to come, and let his future creatures praise the LORD: “The LORD looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth.” You see, God sees everything. He knows what each of us are going through and how hard we are trying to be the best we can be while following the way of the just. At the end of each day it does not matter who liked us, who approved, or who treated us unfairly. All that matters is that we can face God as we lay down to sleep in the complete and utterly wonderful comfort that we pleased Him who loves us so very much. Our greatest hope is that this will be repeated when our earthly journey is completed. O happy day.
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“There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.” French Proverb
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” There is a popular little story that has been circulating around for quite a while now. The plot is relatively simple: A little boy walks up to his mother in the kitchen as she is preparing supper, and a little annoyed that her son can’t seem to wait until everything is ready. Well, he hands her an invoice. Exactly. He is basically charging the family for things like cutting the grass, cleaning his room, babysitting, etc…And there he was, waiting for payment with hand outstretched. The reflection continues with his mother recalling all the memories of her son from the day she told her husband that she was pregnant, to the day they brought home to this very moment in time. Her response was not only brilliant, poetic, and moving, but also laced with pure truth. She took his “bill” turned it over and the wrote the following:
The story ends beautifully with the little boy crying a bit, telling his mom how much he loves her and then takes the pen, X’s out the bill and write in big bold letters, paid in full. The Lord is calling out to you and me to re-capture the joy and innocence of being a child. So care-free, so loved and yet so small-minded, at times. Let us move forward as His children and love being loved by the One who is Love.
Remember all: I am God’s precious child and have been bought at a price. There is no reason to lose hope because God will never fail me. May I remember this and smile and rejoice. Amen.
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“There’s a huge difference between being childlike and being childish. When we embrace joy and look at the world with fresh eyes we’re being childlike. When we demand instant gratification and a guarantee that everything will be ok, we’re only being childish.” Seth Godin
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” So how does Jesus respond to those living in these New Testament lake towns who should have known better and acted differently? Well, to say the least, it wasn’t pretty. Why the harshness of reaction? That’s what happens when we won’t see how incredibly God is working in our life or in the lives of others. It is the expected consequence when we hide behind the Law and miss the Law-giver in our midst. The people who understand this always rejoice but the ones who judge and criticize and try to “fix” everyone else except themselves are almost always humiliated. It all depends on the quality of the relationship we have with the Lord Jesus.
Today, let us first give thanks that Our Lord loves us so much that we are constantly being exposed to the truth in our lives, ugly at times, but always liberating. Second, let us ask again for the courage to see Jesus in others as we look for Him in our own souls. This is definitely the recipe for true happiness.
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“Sometimes, you will go through awful trials in your life and then a miracle happens–God heals you. Don’t be disheartened when the people you love don’t see things as you do. There will be Pharisees in your life that will laugh it off, deny that it happened, or will mock your experience based on righteousness they think you don’t possess. God won’t deny you a spiritual experience because you are not a spiritual leader. He loves everyone equally. The only people that really matter in life are the people that can “see” your heart and rejoice with you.” Shannon L. Alder
“Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.” Veteran firefighters know what to do when a fire breaks out in the home. While it always is better to know and practice these precautionary things even and especially before the tragedy of fire takes place, we can also apply similar principles to our spiritual lives. One of the first things in the event of a burning house is to avoid the overwhelming temptation to panic. This will give us the necessary energy and sound mind to immediately act when we are aware of a terrible crisis and let others know as well. If it all possible and recommended is to have a cold wet towel ready to keep us from breathing in the toxic smoke which will rob our bodies of the needed oxygen. One of the last things is also to route the escape and not run out like we are used to but to actually get down on our knees and even crawl to safety outdoors.
“To the upright, I will show the saving power of God” All of this analogy with fire and a burning house could help us understand and be comforted by the fact that Jesus gives us everything we need to walk through this valley of tears and sometimes darkness to find His will for our lives. We must remember that just in a real-life emergency, we are specifically called to remain calm, alert others to the ways of good and evil, and remain in the posture of prayer and humility to find our ways to safety. God is so good and we choose never to forget this awesome fact. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
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“The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” David Russell
“My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” On this beautiful Sabbath, we are once again treated to a magnificent Scriptural feast that the Lord not only wants to lavish upon us but also is joyfully anticipating some good return from our feasting. Let’s see what we can do with all these passages and add to the joy and depth of our lives:
“Hear the parable of the sower.” This loving image is that of the one who sows seeds in the field and harvests the fruits of that planting. This does bring special nuance to the image that Jesus imparts to us to exemplify his love and care for the world. When you think about it, plants and crops are kind of like people, each having their own unique “personality” and preferences for water, sunlight, soil type, and best growing conditions. The Lord knows this about us so He attends to the varying needs of each of us in terms of what is best for us to grow and bear fruit in this life. Like plants, we too can harvest energy from the sun, that is, the Son of God; water is absolutely necessary for life and so are the waters of Baptism; Just like plants, human beings need nutrients both for the body and soul and for this we are fed on the Word of God in the Scriptures and by receiving the Eucharist, the Body, and Blood of Christ. And just lie the plant world need something the soil that holds all the water and nutrients needed for growth, Jesus has given us the Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” We also must recognize the rocks and thorns in our lives that can distract and choke the grace we need to grow in love for and with God and that is why we remain open to his beautiful Word today and always.
“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore.” In the Gospel today, there were many people “out for a walk” and this time they met Jesus. He told them a great, meaningful story about yet another person who went out on a walk, this time to sow seeds. Depending on where the seed landed determined the outcome. Here again, is yet another wonderful image for life itself. We are all walking through many different situations and circumstances. What we do during these “life-walks” and what we plant will determine not only on how the day will end, but also how each life will finish and be judged: “But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.” (from the Gospel of St. Luke)
“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn, and you will.” Vernon Howard
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“You can have faith or you can have control, but you cannot have both. If you want God to do something off the chart, you have to take your hands off the controls.” Mark Batterson
“Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” One of the greatest experiences of living in the state of grace and joyfully swimming in the promised ocean of mercy is the elation of the freedom from ugly and dark secrets that imprison so many around us, even among our own family members. “Sick as our secrets” is a well-known and repeated phrase among those blessed by the recovery process in Alcoholics Anonymous. Its basic truism is simply understood that a secret kept in the dark grows and only becomes more harmful, but once it is exposed to the light and released, real-life can begin because its power is lost. This is because shame is a powerful force and one that is often implemented by the evil one by attempting to make us feel unlovable and totally manipulated. This is precisely why the message of Jesus Christ expressed wonderfully through His Word int he Bible breaks this awful hold and has the potential to make us new and fresh and forgiven: “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
Since it should be plainly obvious that rooftops and ledges are not the best of platforms to communicate, the only other reference about the rooftops has to deal with how each of us lives our lives, in the open, as if we were shouting from the top of a building. What we are truly saying about our beliefs and deep faith is acted-out or demonstrated by the way we act at home, school, work, and basically in everyday life. “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus guarantees true freedom now, and then completely in the life to come. “Be not afraid.” While we walk this earth, we must walk with Him who never shames or ridicules us for our past mistakes. He does, in fact, ask us all to come clean and tell our story, yes, even the more embarrassing, awkward, and disturbing chapters so that in the end, we all live happily ever after. This is freedom and a straight flight to empowering wisdom.
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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
We understand that more than a handful of our readers are also fans of “The Office,” and if that is true, we have just a little morsel of surprise for you. (If not, we do apologize.) One occasion, the ludicrous yet endearing Michael Scott utters these semi-immortal words: “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little ‘stitious.'” Have you ever wondered why so many (maybe yourself included) consider certain things like black cats, Friday the 13th, broken mirrors, etc. such ominous and almost terrifying circumstances? As you might imagine, the association with numbers, animals, and symbolic days has long been a part of lore and legend of our human race. It is likely that there would be a larger base of agreement that since it was on a Friday that Jesus was crucified, the day itself has been associated with “general ill omen.” In the Middle Ages, for instance, weddings were not held on Fridays and it was usually avoided as a day someone would set out on a long trip or journey. It was also the day in medieval times when executions took place known as “hangman’s day.” As for the “unlucky” or ill-fortunate number thirteen, since Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus was the last and thirteenth guest, the scary number almost seemed to ask for trouble. People thought the black cats assisted witches and that they may in fact be transformed witches in ‘cat-form.’ Broken mirrors seemed to suggest to some that since the mirror reflects the soul, a shattered reflective glass meant a shattered, unprotected life.
“My mouth will declare your praise.” However, the greater issue before must not be ignored or forgotten. How can any day, or animal, or thing be lucky or unlucky? What kind of power or force are we blindly following to make a day, an hour, or even a single minute blessed or cursed? “Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.” Superstition in every form is a useless use of time and waste of energy. The Lord Jesus in our Gospel today made a very poignant observation that could help our understanding of this: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” What makes today blessed, fortunate, and lucky (if you will) has nothing to do with some outside uncontrollable force over which we have no power, but on one simple fact: Jesus died for us sinners and now we have a shot at eternal life.
“Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.” We have all been blessed by the complete and selfless act of self-sacrifice that Jesus accomplished on the cross. By His blood, we have been washed and made clean and we can and should avail ourselves of all the promised blessings every single day we are alive. Shallow people believe in luck; strong people believe in cause and effect; blessed, healthy, and happy people believe in Jesus.
“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy; the mad daughter of a wise mother.” Voltaire
P.S. “If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” Groucho MarxLeave a comment
“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” Have you ever walked into a room and automatically felt that something was terribly wrong? And by “terribly wrong,” what is meant is an atmosphere or attitude that is so negative and critical that you just cannot get away from there fast enough. In fact, the departure is so quick and determined that you leave a trail of dust behind. The Lord Jesus knows exactly the kind of world we occupy. It is full of negative and sinful postures that seek to choke and stifle the beautiful Gospel message. He also knows that we can trust Him with every good gift and wise choice. This is why we are forewarned and thus forearmed: any belligerent or hyper-critical encounter over the Gospel must end with an encounter with the closest door and move to the next page that God has already written and waiting for us.
“Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.” Following the Lord Jesus must have obvious effects in our lives and help us see things in an entirely different manner. When everything is compared to the source of our salvation and our redemption, our problems and worries begin to shrink and fast. “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Jesus makes all things new again.
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“The most thrilling thing about heaven is that Jesus Christ will be there. I will see Him face to face. Jesus Christ will meet us at the end of life’s journey.” Billy Graham
This indeed is a great summer month to reflect upon the intrinsic and deep relationship between what it means to have good, close and encouraging friends, the freedom it takes to maintain those friendships and the faith in Jesus that makes us friends with Him. “Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety; break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain down justice upon you.” Review once again what the Prophet Hosea is attempting to communicate in our First Reading today. The depth of love in his prophetic heart for friendship gushed over into the way he teaches to find hope in the midst of doom. His insights reveal to us, his readers, that nations (like Israel) act and behave very similar to human beings. All persons, especially our friends, have been “gifted” with highs and lows, moments that make one feel ecstatic in one moment then others that usher in pessimism and a touch of gloom and doom. Healthy and long-lasting friendships understand this and carry each other through thick and thin.
This deeply human and shared element is underscored in the Gospel of today: Jesus knew that one of the friends/apostles He would choose would eventually betray Him, and still, in perfect freedom, he asked Him to follow Him, that is, be His friend any way: “He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles, that they might be with him…and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.” The application for us today is simply stunning. In order for love to grow within any relationship there must be faith in the One who is love and the only One who will sustain that love until eternity, and especially for the grace both to forgive and show mercy. What is also remarkable is that love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion never leave us empty-handed or return with nothing. It is a classic “win-win” situation. If we ground our relationships in the Lord and call out to Him in good times and bad, we expect supernatural help with those whom we would not want to live without here on earth or in Heaven. “Look to the LORD in his strength; seek to serve him constantly.”
The most memorable people in life will be the friends who loved you when you weren’t very lovable.Leave a comment
While the image of a shepherd may not resound with many people in this day and age, the essential nature and quality of the person who takes care of sheep should never be forgotten or overlooked. A shepherd in the modern sense could easily apply to anyone who actively takes care of another, looking out for their needs and communicating to those whom they serve the greatest amount of respect, devotion, and commitment. We could say that among the more recognizable modern shepherds among us are parents, godparents, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Furthermore, we could also assert that these shepherds are Christ-figures for the world today acting in such a way that those receiving these acts of love and care will, with their own volition and freedom, pass the blessings forward to their own children and or those in need in their own future.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” The central issue or main concern of the meaning of the Scriptures today. Be like Christ. Whenever possible, find someone to save and save them. Pass on to them what you have received and ask for nothing in return but the knowledge and satisfaction that you are doing the work of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. What a profound idea to consider when we realize how much we have been blessed by the Good Shepherd. With all those in the world who truly need guidance and vision, now is the time to shepherd those whom God has given us to love.
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“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” St. Teresa d’Avila
“I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” On this very first Monday of our new month we are greeted by this most heart-lifting message about life. Our God clearly wants us to live and breathe and have our being solely and completely in Him. In a world where there are so much destruction and death, this message is certainly wonderfully needed and appreciated by those of us who want to seek life and love in this world. We also believe that we have all been espoused as we have been reminded through the Scriptures practically all throughout the previous month and even today: “I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.” This truly is an amazing concept and most excellent way to begin this brand new month: God loves us all so much that he wants to move into the closest spiritually intimate relationship that could ever exist. How often have we experienced sometimes lonely bouts of sadness and feelings of rejection? All these Jesus has faced and conquered and we are the direct beneficiaries of His victories. This is why the best news we have today is that we worship a God who not only loves us but also is the source of all life and love that flows through our veins and breathes through our lungs.
“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” What we have been gifted today is yet another glimpse into the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, that is, the Word becoming Flesh. God became one of us so that all the misery and suffering that we endure would be sacrificed and taken up into His own being and then redeemed. We have been set free but even that gift of freedom has to be fully and freely accepted and lived because without freedom we could never appreciate or understand the powerful opportunity that we have right here in front of us. We have two remarkable examples of the power of miraculous love that was showered upon a little girl who had died and a woman who had been suffering horribly with twelve-year hemorrhage. Both of these examples show us very important aspects of following Jesus: “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you,” and “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” Interestingly enough, they are quite related, that is to say, the more fear we allow, the less faith we experience, and consequently the more faith we grow the less fear fills our days and nights as we witnessed in the deep trust the woman in the Gospel displayed. With just a little faith, miracles can begin to appear everywhere we look. Let us begin today remembering that there truly is not enough space in our souls for both worry and faith. We must decide which one will occupy our space.
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“Doubt and delay are evidence of a disconnection from faith and courage. Do not doubt that you can be a person of greatness, not delay the acts of strength and love that will prove it.” Brendon Burchard
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Today, we readers of the Scriptures are treated to a lesson in word usage and phrasing that will hopefully help us remember the great wisdom that is contained for our use on our spiritual journey. If you were just listening to the Word proclaimed today, you might think that the word “yolk” was meant instead of “yoke.” Most people know that a yolk is that soft, yellow center of an egg that comes to our plates in a myriad of uses and presentations. However, a yoke, as is mentioned in the Gospel today is a very large piece of wood or even a metal composition that is placed on the top of the necks of beasts of burden in order to drag and complete the unearthing of the land to plant and sometimes harvest. But this does present even more issues as to why this large, obstructive tool could be easy or even light. There must be something more to this.
“You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” When you think of the yoke, there is always room for two. When Christ offers his won yoke what is clear about the invitation is both simple and stunning. It is as if the Lord is saying to us, “I am asking you to carry this heavy load but I will be one side of the yoke while you are on the other. We will do this together. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest, says the Lord.” This is truly great news. No matter what I have to carry today, no matter how great or small, this will pale in comparison if I had to carry this cross alone. We are never alone and this promise Jesus always completes and answers. This is why the daily regimen of the Scriptures linked with solid prayer and devoted reception of the Eucharist is absolutely necessary if we are going to make it to Heaven. You see, when we put our problems in His hands, He puts peace in our hearts.
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“The one who prays is never alone.” Pope Benedict XVI
“I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people.” From the very depths of each of our hearts, we celebrate freedom today. On the most outward and national level, we commemorate the historical proceedings that led us here today. Not everyone who is reading this commentary lives in America, but the values for which this country stands, may and should serve a beacon of life and hope for a better tomorrow for all people precisely because of the freedom we have shared to follow the Lord Jesus. “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
The bottom line is that there are real, tangible, and on-going miracles happening all around us. Just think for a minute about your own life and those who are precious to you. For some, the miracle began when they gave their heart to Jesus early on, while for others, it was the turning point came when a person welcomed the Holy Spirit and allowed that Spirit to work within them.
“People do not put new wine into old wineskins.” And the result today is that we are free. We’ve tasted the slavery of dysfunction and co-dependence and have chosen freedom. We’ve had to struggle to survive financially and we have chosen hope. We’ve tasted lust and selfishness and have chosen love. We know that we are the person we want to be when no one is looking. We have chosen integrity, and this is all because of Jesus who won our freedom on the cross.
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“Stand for what’s right. Make your life beautiful. Make your life meaningful.” Maxime Lagacé
“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.’” There was a young father who often told the story about a trip he took with his son, who was just 2 1/2 years old at the time. It was the first time the father and the boy had been able to get away by themselves. They checked into a hotel for the first night, and when they got to their room, the father moved their beds closer so he wouldn’t be so far from his son. Some time went by and when they were ready to sleep, the father turned out the lights. A few minutes later, he heard a little voice say: “It sure is dark isn’t it?” “Yes,” said the father, “it’s it’s pretty dark but everything is going to be all right.” There was silence for a few more minutes, and then a little hand reached over and took his father’s hand, and said: “I’ll just hold your hand, in case you get scared.”
Do we ever doubt the Lord Jesus like Thomas? I am sure we do. However, even though this Apostle earned a negative label, he was not lacking in other very outstanding virtues such as great courage and loyalty. The need and want for proof of our faith in Christ is directly proportionate to the level and depth of our spiritual life. Although the Scriptures today portray good St. Thomas as a skeptic, he never stayed there in doubt. He still wanted to see. He persisted in knowing. And then, after a lifetime of experience and spreading the faith and preaching the Gospel, he did, in fact, feel the wounds of Christ in his own body by glorifying God with a martyr’s death: “Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
So how do we keep from doubting our Jesus? First, we must return solidly to God in prayer when experiencing any threat, large or small, to our beliefs. Second, we must recognize that all of us who want to follow Christ actually and daily are involved with a spiritual battle. We can never take anything or anyone for granted. Finally, we must take His hand. This means a total and life-changing trust in the One who has died for me personally and can not wait to see me in Heaven. Of this, I have no doubt.
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“Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.” Thomas S. Monson
Baltasar Gracián once wrote that ‘True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils.’ And his advice is quite simple. ‘Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island. To find one real friend in a lifetime is a good fortune; to keep him is a blessing.’ If this is true, then we can learn so much about the two different kinds of relationships we have placed before us in the Readings today.
First, take a look at Amaziah’s approach to the Prophet Amos: “Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel.” This breach of trust and friendship would not end well for the people: “Your land shall be divided by measuring line, and you yourself shall die in an unclean land; Israel shall be exiled far from its land.” They may have learned too late that an honest enemy is always better than a friend who lies.
Then, paradoxically in the Gospel of today, we see another form of acting in a different kind of trusting, life-giving friendship: “They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.” This has to rank in the top ten most dramatic scenes of the New Testament. Visualize the moment, if you can, the four friends who are convinced that if Jesus could just touch their friend, that he would be saved. And he was. Note well that Jesus was also moved by this act of friendship because he clearly noticed an unwavering faith in this group of friends: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.”
This can truly have ramifications for all of us. We are here to help each other, but more critically in the milieu that is created when we call someone a friend. Friendships that come with true responsibility and care which can yield magnificent consequences. Pray for your friends today. Ask God to shine His face upon all of them. With friends like these, we may just in fact see God.
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“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Victor Hugo
“When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him.” This passage is especially interesting because the Gadara was a pagan-infested area east of the Sea of Galilee, where evil had its way with the people. This was because God was never mentioned here, worshipped, or loved. And let us not forget the interesting detail that tells us that they were arriving at the tombs (graveyard). But what on earth were they doing there?
The ancient world believed that the air was thickly populated with evil spirits that sought entry into everyone. It was believed that these spirits often entered through food or drink and that every illness was caused by them. The Egyptians believed there were thirty-six different parts of the human body and that any one of these parts could be entered and controlled by one of these evil spirits. There were also spirits of deafness, dumbness, and fever. There were spirits that could take a person’s sanity (or wits) away, spirits of lying (deceit), and spirits of uncleanness. And these were precisely the type of demonic spirits that Jesus had exorcised here. “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.”
“Seek good and not evil, that you may live.” However dramatic or dark, this topic of confronting evil and evil spirits is good for each and every one of us, every day is a challenge and struggle to live this life and walk this walk. Keep in mind as a result of reading the Scriptures today, especially the Gospel of today, that Jesus truly intended to confront these evil spirits, that is to say, it was no accident. We live in a world of darkness and terror and unless we hold the Light of Christ within us, we will indeed be swallowed up in despair. We also learn from this passage that the envious and godless people in this world are actually tormented at the sight of generosity as were the possessed grave dwellers in the Gospel. This is yet another sobering lesson for all of us. You see, the battle of light and darkness is not just outside of us, it is also within us as in every human being who grows And we have Jesus especially in the Eucharist to help us move forward in faith. Evil is not sustainable because it has already been defeated. It is now up to us to join the winning, victorious team.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, free from me all that is not of You and cleanse my soul from all deceit, worry, and shame. In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.
“Yet you returned not to me, says the Lord. So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel!” We have all known people, perhaps offering our very lives as an example as well, of those who leave a sinful way of life behind but still are tempted to return or even if by reminiscing on “good old days” when sinful living was full of harmful pleasures, but pleasurable, nonetheless. Perhaps the problem is an obsession with the past even though it so misleading, many people, perhaps ourselves included, leave the precious present moment because of its obvious challenges and problems and “rewrite” history to make it seem so much better than what we have today. Looking back with regret is dangerous in and of itself, but looking back at a past that should be left there is even more so. It can lead to far worse consequences than the darkness and sinful webs woven in the first place.
“He said to them, ‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” The Gospel gives us all the very reason and opens up the heart of the matter as to why looking back to evil past can never be a good thing. The beautiful story points to the One who has defeated evil and darkness and still remains as the only solution to all of life’s problems here and later. Jesus can calm all the storms of our existence emphasizing the need not to look back at problems but to look always forward to the solution found in our undying faith in Christ.
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“I don’t like looking back. I’m always constantly looking forward. I’m not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I’m too busy looking for the next cow.” Gordon Ramsay
Without a doubt, the beautiful Scripture passages today speak directly about the notion of rescue and God’s hand in this wonderful redemptive activity: “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” (St. Peter) “The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.” (Responsorial Psalm) “And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.” (Second Reading) It should not be of any surprise that the Lord seeks and wants to rescue us all. However, what is interesting is the nature of the word, rescue. It is derived from the word meaning “to shake,” which suggests getting rid of something, as it were, to shake something free that is dangerously affixed or stuck to a person or animal.
We have that suggestion explained in the Gospel of today: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Today, we celebrate the great Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul with the promise that we as the People of God, the Church, are to be rescued literally from here to eternity. These two great Saints were initially responsible for evangelizing and announcing the truths of our faith throughout their known world. They formed the concrete basis and foundation of the Christian message for the following two millennia. Which brings us to the completely jubilant truth that God wants, desires, and will continue to rescue us. Evil can and does attach its ugly self to us in two distinct ways, meanness and weakness. By recalling and remembering the great love that Peter and Paul had for the Lord Jesus and the courage that was firmly placed within their hearts when they both faced martyrdom, we can find the hope of change in our own personalities when we find that being or saying something mean is so tempting. Being mean is being lazy and an obvious sign of evil that has crept into our hearts and begun encrustation. Everyone carries human weakness and that often manifests itself when we are tired, frustrated, or lacking in patient civility. Let us today with this great commemoration of Peter and Paul find the courage and motivation to shake free of meanness and weakness and give Jesus the glory in this life as we wait to see Him face to face in the next.
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“‘When someone would mistreat, misinform, misuse, misguide, mishandle, mislead… or any other “mis”… to others, they’re obviously missing something from their lives.'” Donald L. Hicks
We are most likely all aware there are criminals and nefarious types of people wanted for crimes by lawful authorities who wanted to catch them and bring them to justice. Typically there is a set monetary reward offered to whoever catches the wanted criminal that is advertised on the poster and pertinent websites. Rewards from $100,000 to $25 Million are currently being offered by the U.S. Government and other international agencies. In an analogous and similar way, we could make the case that you and I are wanted by the Lord who also offers a reward for our acquisition. Let’s see how far we can take this.
“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Living for and with the Lord Jesus is its own reward. How many of our readers write to tell us all that their very faith and relationship with Christ is the only way they can get through the day? Sometimes, perhaps regrettably, it takes a tragedy or just a stretch of very hard moments where we think we have been abandoned or forgotten that we realize how truly good God is for us. Our experience always bears out the fact there would be a new dawn and a new reason to hope: “If then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” The rewards to those who believe in the Lord’s goodness and promises are immense and illicit great and joyful reactions, a reward of hope and fidelity, clearly. Elisha promised as much in our First Reading today: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—Amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” Jesus spoke of reward. The concept can be misunderstood. Jesus was not speaking in terms of something extrinsic – a prize or payment of some kind. The reward would rather be the reality (and the experience) of human and personal growth: this could mean growth in love, truth, and inner freedom, in the enjoyed intimacy of love for God, which is its own reward. We could also posit that loving God with every fiber of our being is in fact itself its own reward. Therefore, being wanted by God and sought “to be brought in (Heaven) alive,” ranks above all the most desired of conditions we could ever imagine! He wants us, alive!
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“You may never realize that Jesus is all you need until He is all you have.” Caro Vanni
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Here on the last Saturday of the month, we are greeted and challenged by this very familiar phrase from the Scriptures which are recalled during the Sacrifice of the Mass right before the Body and Blood of Christ are to be received. The term, “under my roof” refers primarily to the authority that one is called to acknowledge and respect when living or even visiting someone else’s home or abode. At the core of all courtesies known to us is the deference and dignity we show to those whose homes we enter, that is, while we are “under their roof.” What is at issue for us today is that of authority or in other words, the power to achieve something great.
“And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour his servant was healed.” We have in fact witnessed something great happen as the Gospel continues, a true miracle. Perhaps we could say that the centurion told Jesus that He did not have to come under his own roof but rather, the centurion had to submit and believe and trust by living in the Kingdom, virtually, under God’s roof. When each of us lives our lives so completely in trust in the wonderful grace that God provides, with the ultimate assurance that all is well and all will be well, we, too will have our own miracle, right under our roof.
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“God will always give us more than we deserve.” St. Padre Pio
We have an interesting morsel upon which to reflect today that could make a huge difference in thew as we pray. The tormented leper introduces his request for health and sanity by stating that he would only ask Jesus of anything “if you wish.” The Law strictly forbade anyone from touching the leper. When Jesus touched and healed the one with this horrible, disfiguring disease, the humble, sorrowful but believing leper gave us the very opposite of arrogance and reminded us that no one should be deemed untouchable, nor are we ever capable of judging who is worthy of receiving God’s love and mercy: “‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.'” While it is very easy to sit on our self-made perches and self-taught premises and comment on the plight and weaknesses of everybody else except the one in the mirror, it is never sustainable. Defeat is inevitable. There is indeed a thin line between confidence and arrogance. It is called humility. Confidence smiles. Arrogance smirks.
On this last Friday of June, let us consider some ways to learn how to be faithful and grateful:
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“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Everyone builds their very existence (or house) on something. You could say that every person we meet already has a foundation underneath everything they do and say. The one true revelation as to that base of life is what happens to a person when a storm or severe crisis hits. What do they do? Who will they turn to? What is their strategy? Will it be the rock which is Jesus or sand which is the world?
Here is what St. John Chrysostom has to say about it: “By ‘rain’ here, and ‘floods,’ and ‘winds,’ He is expressing metaphorically the calamities and afflictions that befall everyone; such as false accusations, plots, bereavements, deaths, loss of friends, vexations from strangers, all the ills in our life that any one could mention. ‘But to none of these,’ says He, ‘does such a soul give way; and the cause is, it is founded on the rock.’”
“Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock.” Both the Old and New Testaments have produced outstanding witnesses to this point for our consideration. Job is one of them who received all the assaults of the devil, and stood unmovable; and the Apostles, too for that when the waves of the whole world were beating against them, when both nations and princes, both their own people and strangers, both the evil spirits, and the devil, and every engine was set in motion, they stood firmer than a rock, and dispersed it all. The non-believer says, “Why me?” The Disciple says, “Why not me?”
More than a handful of years ago, I was speaking with an acquaintance of mine, whose life was clearly, diametrically opposed to my own. He told me, “The difference between my life and yours is that you could compare my life to a beautiful ship anchored in the harbor, with the sails blowing gently in the wind, a gallant sight to see for all to visit and watch. My boat, safe and magnificent in a calm sea!” I thought about what he said for a moment and said, “I agree totally with your assessment. There is just one problem, that’s not what ships are made for.”Leave a comment
“Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.” Real climate change has just dawned upon us. The life, teaching, and example of St. John the Baptist can never and should never be erased from our understanding of our own salvation which is found squarely and fundamentally in Jesus Christ. He lived in such a way that everything depended on God and his whole life was dedicated to preparing the way for the Messiah. So why do we say “climate change?” This is a very interesting aspect of today’s feast.
“What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.” What is most memorable about the life and death of St. John the Baptist is that he was determined to leave behind the legacy of decrease/increase. Jesus must increase in my life and my ego and selfishness must decrease. Even more interesting is how climate and the seasons exhibit this wonderful style of life throughout the year. You see, after today’s feast, the days will start to grow shorter and shorter while conversely after the birth of Christ in just six short months, the days will grow longer and longer, increase, if you will. The hope is that you and I will decrease so that the Lord can shine through us like the morning dawn.
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“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” Andrew Murray
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Again we have yet another very familiar biblical reference which is familiar to most people even when repeated even in polite conversation. Basically this passage from the Gospel is generally interpreted to be a warning by Jesus to his disciples including all of us that we should not offer biblical doctrine to those who are unable to value and appreciate it. This is also very similar to another warning about giving sacred things to dogs. In these very telling examples, Jesus uses dogs and pigs as representative of those who would ridicule, reject, and blaspheme the message of the Gospel and, by extension, the messengers or evangelists of the Good News. It is clear that we are not to expose the elements of our faith in Jesus Christ to those who have no other purpose than to trample it and return to their own evil ways.
“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” However, this pointed command was never intended to restrict to ever hide or be afraid of being salt of the earth and light of the world. We must remember that Jesus Himself ate with and taught sinners and tax collectors and those whom society regarded as outcasts and even dirty. We are to be always ready to share our faith, but, when it becomes apparent that we and our message are not welcome, we are simply to move on. It is also appropriate to put it this way, we are responsible for the process it takes to live our lives in an integral way and share what we believe but we are not responsible for people’s response. Just as animals could never appreciate pearls or the finer things in life, there are those who cannot or will not appreciate what God has done for them. Jesus’ instruction to His apostles on how to handle rejection was simply to move on to those who are still waiting to hear the greatest story ever told.
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“Staying in a situation where you are unappreciated is not called loyalty; it is called breaking your own heart.” Trent Shelton
“You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” Today we are being treated with a very famous morsel of Scripture quotes which most people have heard even if they have never read anything else in the Bible. Perhaps much of its popularity is due in part to the widespread experience that everyone has with this issue. We could ask ourselves what is truly the problem with hypocrisy? When someone condemns the sinful behavior of others then engages in the very same behavior, we seem to lose it, or at least, some of the time. Obviously it is objectionable to realize that someone is not practicing what they are preaching but it goes much deeper than that: a hypocrite is trying to convince us that they are more holy, righteous, and moral than the rest of people. This is what makes it so hateful.
“They did not listen, but were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who had not believed in the LORD, their God.” Among the many deep spiritual lessons that can be discovered during the virus pandemic and other life challenge is the call on all of us to valiantly struggle against this tendency to assume that our own worldview, often very limited, is the only unbiased, open-minded and uncolored norm of judgment, that only we possess clear, unhampered sight. In other words, thinking and acting as if we are the “doctor” in the hospital of life and everybody else is the “patient.” This sickness, affecting the soul much like the actual COVID-19 weakens and destroys the lungs, can be cured only by putting on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ; by seeing my brothers and sisters through His eyes which always radiate love and forgiveness. You and I are called to beg every day to adopt and develop a healthy, realistic worldview where no one is better than anyone else and that forgiveness if we truly want it at the end of our lives, must be practiced today and right now before yet another minute passes. Life, as it is, clearly remains as fragile as it has ever been noted. We will be able to live what we read in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “only then will you see clearly.”
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“Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Warren W. Wiersbe
“But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Silence is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Nature’s core is silence. God speaks powerfully through the silence of the universe. Every time we enter into prayer in silence, especially if our hearts are in the right place, we find as if that time literally stops and all our thoughts stop in their tracks. All that remains is the very heart of the existence of God within us, above us and all around us.
In silence, we become aware that we have the freedom and power to choose the types of thoughts we wish to entertain and empower, and the thoughts we wish to ignore and diffuse. We begin to ache and pine only for the thoughts and intentions that bring us closer and closer to God no matter what is going on in our lives.
“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.” One day, when all is said and done, and the sands of our lives have finished falling through the hourglass of time, there will only be silence and stillness and perfect peace and joy face to face with The One who has always loved us. Imagine, spending that kind of time with Jesus.
Daily, we can practice the following to prepare a place for what is whispered in the silence to live a full and committed life that bears much fruit:
1. Listen without interrupting
2. Speak without accusing
3. Give without sparing
4. Pray without ceasing
5. Answer without arguing
6. Share without pretending
7. Enjoy without complaint
8. Trust without wavering
9. Forgive without punishing
10. Promise without forgetting
“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” On this Father’s Day weekend, we wish all of our readers, fathers, and sons and all that this short phrase invokes everyone a choice and happy day. No matter where you are today, you have an awesome Father in Heaven who loves you to the point of giving His only Son for your salvation. Give thanks to Him for He is good and His love is everlasting.
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“Your dad is almost always the silent hero of your life. I mean, unlike mom, he is not always there hugging or blowing kisses. But he is always there — in the background, in his silence, in his concern, in his care in his prayers, and in his deep, but unexpressed love.” Rahul Kaushik
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” Today the Gospel Reading takes us to the meaning of the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, best known to many as “Finding of the Child Jesus.” How could we faithfully summarize what we witnessed through the powerful Word of God today? It is clear that Jesus loved the art of teaching, asking, and answering questions and in every encounter with the Lord, there was always something astounding.
“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And there is something else quite telling that we must not forget or miss today. The question His Mother Mary asked Him was also truly astounding. How could the Lord, even as a child, bring or cause in any way, even indirectly, anxiety to His parents? Since we could not honestly assume that this was the Christ-child’s motive, what shall we make of the subsequent fear of losing a child in such a huge horde of people on the move? We could start with the obvious answer to the question, “where was He?” Jesus was in the Temple not to abandon His parents, but in His Father’s House to do something for them and all humanity that would certainly last into eternity. He was beginning the framework for His suffering, death, and Resurrection which would culminate in His own body, the Temple not made by human hands. In a phrase, the Child Jesus was not lost at all, He was setting into motion how He would save all the lost. When we feel we have lost Jesus in our lives, we must remember this element of today’s Scripture and never lose hope. What we have in Jesus is our way to eternal happiness after this life completes its purification of our souls: “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
Let us pray: Lord, help me confidently reach for what lies ahead and help me seek you in the midst of my struggles. Lord, help me rejoice in the hope of tomorrow and give me the strength to just keep going. Amen.Leave a comment
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, as we know it, began about the year 1672. On repeated occasions, Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in France, and during these apparitions, He explained to her the devotion to His Sacred Heart as He wanted people to practice it. he asked to be honored in the symbol of His Heart of flesh. There is only one Person in Jesus, and that Person was at the same time, God and Man. His Heart, too, is Divine — it is the Heart of God. “It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the LORD loved you.”
What does it really mean when one person says to another, “I give my heart to you”? For some, it means that you are ready and truly able to trust another with your feelings, your thoughts, and even your future. That person must also clearly demonstrate the following:
1. They take time out for you
2. They are honest about themselves and you
3. They share intimate details about themselves
4. They readily show various personal aspects of their own life
5. They are consistently there for you and talk and listen about anything
“God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”
Thus, what do you think it means that Jesus gives His Sacred Heart to us and opens the way for a mutual relationship which is forever with Him? Let’s take another look at the list we prepared before:
1. Jesus always takes time for us.
2. Jesus is Truth
3. Jesus has shared His very life by dying on the Cross
4. Jesus invites us to discover who He is in our day-to-day life
5. Jesus never leaves
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
Jesus calls each and every one of us to love. First, to love God above all things, second, our neighbor as ourselves, and lastly, ourselves. All together and all at once. Throughout our short lives here on earth, it may take a little more effort and time with one or two of these charges, but this is what we call faith in action. People who obey this command change their spiritual lives forever. If we are a believer in Jesus Christ, we must ask where He called us to go? Who has God put on your heart to love and share the gift of salvation?
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“My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness.” Michelangelo
“As they walked on conversing, a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” This remarkable and breath-taking scene in the First Reading today reveals much about the intense relationship that is waiting for us when we want to truly give our entire selves to God, nourished by the Sacraments and supported by a strong and daily prayer life. The Catechism in the section dedicated to Prayer lends further light on the central figure of Elijah: He is the “father” of the prophets, “the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” Elijah’s name, “The Lord is my God,” foretells the people’s cry in response to his prayer on Mount Carmel. St. James refers to Elijah in order to encourage us to pray: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” A dedicated and devoted prayer life is like the fiery chariot that brings us even closer to our loving God: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him.”
The life of Elijah was certainly dramatic and memorable, especially his encounter with the priests of Baal that we addressed earlier. But what about our paths to prayer and our own spiritual chariots? Jesus in our Gospel today has a remarkable suggestion: “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” It seems that the more close and inmate our prayer with God is, the more effective and fruitful it will be. Prayer doesn’t change the world. It changes people and they change the world.
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“When we pray and worship, we need to do more than just raise our hands and voices, we need to raise our thinking.” Dr. Billy Alsbrooks
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” Right. That’s the way it used to be. That may be the way some of us were raised or learned how to act after so many disappointments and stabs in the back. It sure does take a lot of energy, though, and living by “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” just makes for a blind and toothless generation. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Seriously? How is this done especially in a world where cut-throat is the game of the week? What Jesus is asking us to do is not something impossible or unnatural. It is the only thing that makes sense and will bring peace to me and hopefully in time to the person who is hostile to me. It is altogether possible to literally disarm a hating person by acting towards them in a positive and loving way, refusing to be controlled by their negative attitudes and imitating Christ Jesus in every way possible and in any given situation.
Our call today is simple. Remember that anyone who really harms us, also harms themselves as well, even if they get a twisted pleasure in the short term. If I have a true Christian spirit I will reach out in compassion to that person. I will want that person to be healed, healed of their hatred, healed of their anger, and to learn how to love. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This will not be easy but it is not impossible either. The rewards are amazing. It is a phenomenal way to live precisely because it is a call and a challenge to do everything in our power to imitate God in extending our love, respect, and forgiveness impartially and unconditionally to everyone, especially to the ones who render injustice and sorrow upon us. “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” My friends, this is a new commandment because it makes us new and refreshed in the Lord Jesus. This is why many of the saints have referred to it as “perfection.”
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“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” G. K. Chesterton
“Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back into life. In life he performed wonders, and after death, marvelous deeds.” Our First Reading paints a remarkable character study on Elisha, the protege of Elijah, and the recipient of the power of the Holy Spirit. This dramatic description also serves another purpose for us today. It prefigures the great hope that awaits us in the Gospel and fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah and totally revealed in Jesus Christ. We have then, two wonderful corridors of meaning here today that together help us understand what real power is and how one can tap into it and live a happy, holy and healthy life, right here, right now.
“This is how you are to pray:” We have often heard the there is power in prayer but perhaps more aptly said, prayer attracts power to change oneself, witness, to others to change themselves in freedom and therefore, by extension, the hope to change the world. Saint Augustine brilliantly described in his powerfully concise and succinct theological finesse what we truly have in the prayer of the Our Father: “Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.” With all this in mind, let us all take some deep and realistic time to slowly pray as we must, given the Scriptures today and the humble invitation to have real power in our lives.
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“The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers…In it, we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things but also in what order we should desire them.” Saint Thomas Aquinas
Today we read about one of the most infamous characters and personalities of the Bible. In a phrase, the spirit of Jezebel operates in manipulation, control, pride, arrogance, and rejection. “Next, get two scoundrels to face him and accuse him of having cursed God and king. Then take him out and stone him to death.” Not too long ago, I was struggling with my own thoughts and feelings about another individual who was continuing to hurt me and others around him all the while knowing that the right and just course to take was not going to be his because of a Gibraltar-sized block of pride. All that changed when, in deep prayer, it occurred to me that I was NOT living in ‘an acceptable time.’ That is, I was focused too much on the past and on the future and not enough on Jesus, right here, right now with me. From that day on, I haven’t wasted a single minute wondering about retribution or worrying about resolution. That doesn’t mean we stop fighting for what is right, but rather it means we look forward to a good night’s sleep after a full day of battle!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus gave us this teaching today to help minimize the effects of evil and the current active spirit and echoes of Jezebel and all the other hateful and vindictive spirits we encounter. Evil escalates when we respond back to it with equal and most times excessive fervor. A small situation can get blown so far out of proportion that it can cause horrible harm. Even in everyday life, when someone wrongs us, the situation can blow up and get out of control, destroying marriages, families, friendships, and even faith without which we simply cannot survive. Frustrating and on-going issues of injustice will simply require more patience, more trust, more Jesus.
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“When you expose the spirit of Jezebel, expect it to take revenge. But know this: Jezebel is no match for Jesus.” Josh Morgan
“Give them some food yourselves.” It has been a couple of years now, but I distinctly remember a talk given by a very wonderful and spiritual-driven woman who presented her answer to the age-old question, “Why do we overeat?” She narrowed it down to five:
1. Panic: reaction to much anxiety, fear, and stress
2. Comfort: the attempt to nurture, soothe, and care for unmet needs and feelings
3. Self-protection: numbing action because we can’t or won’t face our feelings
4. Frustration: things go wrong so we head for food
5. Shame and self-pity: whatever is wrong with life, we take the blame and hide and stuff.
Today, we celebrate the Great Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus. In this celebration, we proclaim our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also proclaim that the same Jesus lives within each one of us who are baptized into His Holy Body, the Church. We call this the mystery of communion because our faith and life is all about relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“They all ate and were satisfied.” Now let us return to our original question, “why am I so hungry,” and by extension, “why do we overeat?” Whether anything is off-balance or troublesome in our lives, it is because something is troubling inside of us, at our very core which is our soul. Ask yourself about each of the painful reasons we may overeat. Why do we ingest and consume so many things that will never satisfy and actually hurt us? Why do we sometimes gravitate to unhealthy relationships? If we truly believed that Jesus Christ is alive and real in the Eucharist, how would He make a difference in our lives?
1. Panic: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
2. Comfort: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
3. Self-protection: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
4. Frustration: “So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you.”
5. Shame and self-pity: “This is my Body…”
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“Healing comes when our story is raw, bone-deep, and full of hunger for what only Jesus can offer.” Michael Meadows
“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” Our speech is a powerful gift that God has given to all humanity. It describes how we live and love and develop relationships with the world and all those who will populate our years and create masterpieces with their friendship and care for us. Our words can also betray us and there is in the present world much temptation to lie and damage the truth and cause pain even to those who want to love us and care for us. We could say in that in some ways, our speech is a two-edged sword in that it can create or destroy depending on the integrity of the one who utters the host of words in a given lifetime.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,’ Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.'” In the Gospel of today, Jesus also addresses the deep and dynamic power of our words. He goes beyond the legal aspects of vows and promises and makes sure that even our daily conversations, especially our casual conversations, are imbued with truth and light and the desire to serve the truth. Otherwise, evil will thrive and not because of the bad people we encounter but because and most due to the good people in our lives who do and say nothing. Silence may be golden, but sometimes it is yellow (cowardice).
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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” William Faulkner
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna” (Hell). These words of Jesus we just heard are hard words to hear. They are hard to think about. They are hard to process. They are hard because Jesus is addressing lust and adultery that cause more emotional pain and hurt families perhaps more than just about anything else. Nobody wins when a family breaks apart under the horrible weight of painful pretense and broken dreams. Love is such a supreme and yes, even Divine gift, that any alteration or selfishness that enters such a relationship can have the most destructive consequences.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” We all have endured some of these painful experiences, either directly or indirectly. And yet, it is precisely because Jesus is speaking about these that we simply cannot ignore what he has to say. We live in a world that is broken, and we pick up knocks and bruises as we go through, and if Jesus has something to say about all that, we need to tune in. If Jesus had nothing to say about the things that cause us the most heartache, he’s not asking us to live in the real world when He calls us to follow him. Love, not lust is at the basis of our hearts. It is the truth, not lies, that is the very air our hearts and souls need to approach God and one another. When we give our hearts to Jesus we are asking Him to allow us to love the way He does. Completely. Unselfishly. Purely. This is why daily prayer and the Eucharist are absolutely necessary for this spiritual approach to our human existence. What Jesus clearly wants for us is not natural, it is supernatural. And only then we will be happy in this life waiting for the one which is to come. “Shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the Word of Life.”
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“Live life to the fullest. You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece. Laugh some every day. Keep growing, keep dreaming, keep following your heart. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein
“…he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” In our First Reading today, Barnabas had a front-row seat to the marvelous effects of loving Jesus to the degree that those in Antioch had achieved. it must have been quite a beautiful sight. You see, this is what happiness is when those who are searching for happiness in this world find it in Jesus. Great things always happen. “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God. Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.” The Gospel then concludes our Scriptural gifts today by instructing and inspiring just how to go forward in faith.
“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Now that is certainly something you don’t hear every day, at least in polite company. If you and I are going to fully understand what Jesus is communicating with us, we are in need of a little research. In New Testament times, much like today, anger was considered a very powerful emotion that could lead a person into horrible problems. If there was anger in someone’s heart, it was going to eventually show up in words and actions. The more anger, the more problems. Easy enough, right?
“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.” As we have read throughout the year in several places, Jesus also saw his followers as the light of a fire to the world. Placing a light fire under a basket would put the fire out. No, like a city high on a hill, the fire should be placed for all to see, especially when it comes to forgiveness and making peace even with the most incorrigible of persons. So, one cannot hide faith by inaction. One must show faith in action for all to see, so those seeing the witness can be brought to faith and praise God.
In essence, Jesus told his followers they cannot have it both ways. One cannot believe as a Christian, yet act as if faith did not matter. Faith leads to action and the action points to the Kingdom. Are we alive or lifeless? Are we who we say we are? Let’s see how the day progresses.
God our Father, You filled Saint Barnabas with faith and the Holy Spirit and sent him to convert the nations. Help us to proclaim the gospel by word and deed. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.Leave a comment