“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds.” Truly one of the richest blessings in this life after our faith in God and health has to be the absolutely wonderful blessing of friends. Friends help us be ourselves, support us when things are rough and double our joys when we share them. This earthly blessing is compounded many times over when our friends are also friends of the Lord. Nothing sounds better than to hear that we will see our beloved in heaven after this earthly pilgrimage is ended.
“Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Not all friendships turn into marital commitments, but all true marriages start with solid friendship and all the beauty that is contained in maintaining such treasures in this life. God is love and every time we find, experience and share real, life-giving love, we find ourselves even closer to the one who has made us in total love. God is so good!
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“God loves us as if there were only one of us.” St. Augustine
“He created in them knowledge of the spirit; With wisdom he fills their heart; good and evil he shows them.” Everything and everyone created by God reflects the intrinsic and overwhelming goodness of the Creator. This we must hold fast to our thinking, otherwise the whole fabric of reality will become undone if at the very core all that is, is anything but good because of God. So much more does this apply to each one of us who have the marks and signs of the one who loves us so much and fills us with wisdom. “Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.” The Readings for today also reflect this very nature of what makes something real and naturally good so that we might choose those pockets of greatness and stay close to our ultimate goal which is final perfection in heaven.
“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” The Gospel sustains this line of thinking and Jesus brings us to the age-old source of wisdom of how one can approach the world and avoid cynicism and hateful pessimism. We must adopt the heart, not necessarily the mind, of a child as we move forward in this life. Trust must be tempered with wisdom and a natural caution for all things because of the nature and presence of evil around us. But the presence of Jesus shines light onto the darkness wherever we may find it so we are at peace and supported by the light of truth which emanates from Jesus Himself. The imagination, total confidence and unconditional love nestled sweetly in the heart of a child is the magnet that brings us closer to a wonderful existence with the Lord.
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” The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” Fred Rogers
The definition of fruit is the result or reward of work or activity and the definition of fruity is eccentric or crazy. “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.” It is quite an interesting language we have, isn’t it? Some say that the way words and meanings change depicts the way a given society is heading or already arrived. Take for example the two words, fruit and fruity, that describe two very similar but perhaps very different ideas. “For every tree is known by its own fruit.” Do we hear enough about “good” fruit? You see, there is a great deal of consequences resulting from horrible choices that others make which stand in direct opposition to God, in opposition to the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage and the truth about human love. Some among us commonly mistake popularity, charm, charisma even attractive looks as good fruits. But this cannot truly be the case. It is deeds, not words or appearances, which always tell the full story and give greatest insight into the soul of an individual. You will know much about a person by the result of their lives and not the eccentricity or notoriety of their behavior. “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.”
It is easy to become blinded and even seduced by the standards the world places on what makes something or someone “good.” The standard for us who profess to follow Jesus and carry the cross in our lives is simply and powerfully Jesus. This is true because we can do nothing apart from this starting point just as Christ himself explained it: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” There are both great fruit and loud fruitiness all around us. It is up to us, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to be encouraged by the Word of God poured out over us today and continue to look for opportunities to be bearers of good spiritual produce in a world that hungers desperately for them.
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“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
“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 that is quoted by Christians and philosophers alike concerning the improbability of a large beast of burden being able to squeeze through the most tiny 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 actually talking about a sewing needle but rather about a narrow entrance into the city of Jerusalem, a gate 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.
“To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.” 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
“We have given up everything and followed you.” Today around the world and much more emphatically in some parts like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, many are celebrating Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” with an array of spectacular events and parades and foods and festivals that could ever be imagined. The exhortation from St. Peter in our Gospel today almost seems to announce the hope and desire to enter the wondrous time of Lent tomorrow with the onset of Ash Wednesday and mover forward to our eternal reward.
“To refrain from evil pleases the LORD, and to avoid injustice is an atonement.” The interesting phenomenon behind today’s wild and colorful celebrations is actually a sober one. The word, “carnival” is derived from two distinct Latin phrases which come to be translated as “say goodbye to the flesh.” In doing so, people declare their seeming dependence of the pleasures of the world, hold them up for the world to see, then only twenty-four hours later renounce them as we begin a forty day journey into light and transfiguration, helping us be more like Christ in every possible way. Celebrate today with an eye on tomorrow when things make a dramatic change for the better. It will be the most glorious Easter experience if we do so.
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“Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.” Chris Rose
“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.” Today we begin a most wonderful and challenging season of self-denial and hungering for the earthly pleasure that we may or may not have become overly attached to. The reason for the Season of Lent which begins today is to deeply understand mercy and to practice compassion and forgiveness every chance and opportunity we have. “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” Even though this special time appears on our calendars every single year, it is not pertinent or helpful to recall how many Lents we have lived through but rather and most importantly how many Lents have successfully lived through our own lives and existence. Remember, we live in the present moment and this is the time to act if we are going to make a difference between a life well lived and merely days and weeks to fill. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
“And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Let us keep in mind as well as a precautionary and important caveat as we move forward. Lent does not end at the end of the day on Ash Wednesday. It is not even for only a week. It is a journey of forty days and forty nights which is remarkably Biblical and critical. If we truly want to glean all the spiritual and emotional benefits of such a powerful trek, we need to be ready to fall in place with all our hearts and minds and not anything that resembles a half-hearted effort. This is not only a thinly layered attempt to lose weight and look better. The role of hypocrisy is waiting to take center stage during this time and the Gospel was not unclear about the attitudes that must be present if we are to encounter a true moment of lasting integrity. Finally, this Lenten Season is about our relationship with Our Heavenly Father just as it was for the First Lent between Jesus and His Father. Just as the Body of Christ is the Church, so this global initiative to reform and change is all about our love for God and experiencing his reciprocating love for each and every one of us. Onward and upward!
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“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” St. John Chrysostom
“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.” For some around us, this obvious choice that is offered by the Lord seems a little awkward. How? Why wouldn’t anyone not want to choose life in this world? Who would even think about choosing death? And here is the problem: some people misunderstand the life choices before them and instead of choosing the very gift of life in the world, they rather choose “living,” that is to say, they would rather let others suffer and die so that they can live the life of selfishness and betrayal that is clearly available and easy. It is similar to the person who claims they are free to abuse drugs and yet are slaves of the very substances they assert gives them freedom. The very opposite is true. Anything or anyone that enslaves is no friend of freedom, nor for that matter, of the Lord.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The real question about this life-giving choice of and for life is found replete in the Gospel in the very words of the quintessential invitation Jesus provides for us. The only path to true freedom is to deny oneself and cling to Christ with every ounce of strength that we have. To accomplish this, we embrace our sufferings, heartaches and headaches to be redeemed and find life in the one who is leading us through these forty days and nights.
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“Teach self-denial, and make its practice pleasurable, and you create for the world a destiny more sublime than ever issued from the brain of the wildest dreamer.” Walter Scott
“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish.” We have now arrived at the First Friday of Lent where we are reminded of that particular Friday when Jesus gave us His entire being on the cross for our salvation and eternal happiness. We are also reminded of the call to fast and go without to strengthen our resolve and our wish to be holy and ever so close to the Lord. Here we can visualize and follow the radical connection between the paths of Lent by which we are made wondrously ready for Easter.
“Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord will be with you.” Fasting assists our prayer life by helping us focus on the things in this life that really matter starting with our relationship with God and spreading into our dealings with one another. This supports our prayer life which in turn feeds our desire to do good and avoid the near temptation of sin that we may grow in holiness and deep and lasting friendships in this life. What we know by now is certain: we cannot do this alone and we need Jesus and each other to make or break this Lent.
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Only in eternity shall we see the beauty of the soul, and only then shall we realize what great things were accomplished by interior suffering. Mother Angelica
“He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.” The Prophet Isaiah reveals more elements of the nature of this Season that have the great potential of making the grandest difference in our lives. In our First Reading of the day, we are clearly told that if we remove ugliness from our speech and selfishness from our mindsets, we can expect with the very promise of God Himself that life will be much better for us and for those around us.
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” Jesus crowns this wonderful insight by reminding us that before we can get better and grow in this life we must be honest with ourselves. If we think everything is fine and perfect and just “okay” then we have little hope of any transformation during Lent or at any other time of the year. As we prepare the First Sunday of Lent tomorrow, we could say that self-awareness and personal integrity form the bedrock and basis for an awesome life and full life. God has done His part; the rest is up to us.
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Lent is about becoming, doing, and changing, whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” On this First Sunday of Lent, we are alerted to the very core reason for our journey these days. Jesus was in the desert for a very specific and wonderful reason: He is showing us how to live and how to face the temptations of this life. He was strengthened by his fasting and supported by His very love for you and me. The Psalm of today also confirms this belief: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.” The three famous temptations of Christ could be saddled in the categories that should be more than familiar to us: passion, power and position. These passing commodities in this life can actually aid our demise if we are not careful and lose our focus on the things that really matter in this life which always outlive and outlast our existence here and pass into the next life.
“He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country, he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses knew this firsthand. The chosen people, a precursor of the entire Church of God, was under attack and tremendous burden. The Lord heard their cry and was given yet another chance to find salvation and hope in this life. This “second chance” involves our entrance into the mystical Body of Christ which also has prepared us not only for the forty days of Lent but all the days we have left on this planet. Just like the manna by day and the pillar of fire by night protected all those following Moses through the dessert, the Church protects all within her through the waters of Baptism that put an end to the reign of sin and death around us and assures our arrival to the Promised land of heaven. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As we continue this great and marvelous time of renewal, we call upon the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the desert, who helps us maintain our Lenten focus and who inspires us with love and forgiveness now and forever.
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Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, and what path we must take in life. Pope Benedict XVI
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” One of more astounding truths we encounter throughout Lent is the realization that there are many people in our immediate circle of contact and influence who are challenged and burdened much like ourselves and carrying similar crosses that we are bearing. Yet, because of our attachment to routine and preconceived notions and prejudices throughout the day, we are blind to the plight of others around us perhaps made that way because of our own struggles which tend to make us insensitive. Very unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragedy or horrible instance to open our eyes and see what we have been missing all along. That is why the time to act is now: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Today we are also given an added touch to this reflection. Those people in our lives which we treat with infrequent and perhaps unthinking care, could in fact be Jesus Himself. He said as much. His words and promise are better than gold so we can rest assured that all that is presented here is at least worthy of more than casual thought. What if that was Jesus I passed today? What if that person who pains me the most is in fact the Lord watching how I will return responses and invitations to greatness? Let’s see.
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Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps, by a life more marked by routine than by reflection. Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
As the first full week of Lent concludes and we prepare for yet another wonderful installment of grace and direction, we are served with the timeless and excellent anthem for our spiritual journey in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, known to most of the world as the “Our Father” prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it brilliantly as it teaches that The Lord’s Prayer is truly the summary of the whole gospel. Since the Lord . . . after handing over the practice of prayer, said elsewhere, ‘Ask and you will receive,’ and since everyone has petitions which are peculiar to his circumstances, the regular and appropriate prayer [the Lord’s Prayer] is said first, as the foundation of further desires. (2761)
“Our Father who art in heaven” We acknowledge we are His children.
“hallowed be thy name” We acknowledge power in His name.
“thy Kingdom come” We acknowledge and desire His Kingdom.
“thy will be done” We desire to follow God.
“on earth as it is in heaven.” We realize there is this life and the next.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” We ask for all of our needs.
“and forgive us our trespasses,” We beg forgiveness.
“as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pledge forgiveness.
“and lead us not into temptation,” We ask for courage and strength.
“but deliver us from evil.” We ask for protection from the devil.
Sometime today, even late this evening when all is said and done, reflect slowly on the words of this incredible gift of a prayer and allow the Lord Jesus to hold you safe within his most Sacred Heart.
One thing is very clear and actually demanded from the one who hears the call of discipleship to follow Jesus and wishes to answer it: it will always involve a leap of faith, an extra helping of courage and sometimes small or monumental act of faith. Such was the case of Jonah of which we heard in our First Reading after he was first charged to warn and issue an apocalyptic message to the Ninevites: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” This was no easy task and neither was the awesome, even unexpected outcome: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” What a relief that must have been! In front of this all-encompassing mercy of God that marvels as well as redeems, we can understand and agree with the Psalmist who is insistent with the only recourse we have when we have made that tumultuous leap of complete trust: “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
The benefits of this leap of faith are then made crystal clear and even more desirable in the Gospel today which re-addresses the nature of Jonah’s mission and our own hopes for a successful Lenten Season. Jesus is the last installment of any hope to return to the most excellent existence that could only possibly be had in heaven, Our life here on earth, much like these forty days of Lent preparing us for Easter, is like an “extended Lent” bringing us to new heights and clarity so that we may continue onward.
Perhaps we could agree with a statement that was posted in a church lobby some years ago: “When God pushes you to the edge of difficulty, trust Him fully because two things will happen. Either He will catch you when you fall or He will teach you how to fly.”Leave a comment
“Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD… Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God.” Our Scriptures open today with a dramatic scene in the life of Queen Esther, a most remarkable Biblical figure in the Old Testament, who, at a serious moment in her life, had only the recourse to serious and complete self-emptying prayer that would move anyone to tears. This becomes a great image for us to factor in the way we lift our prayers to God. Do we just rattle-off words? Do we think about what we are saying? Does the level of faith reach deep within our souls? Queen Esther would certainly answer easily.
“For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Prayer is the life of the new heart (CCC 2697) Christians throughout the centuries have maintained three main expressions of prayer: vocal, meditation and contemplation. Together, they make a phenomenal path to peace and holiness, not to mention sanity.
Vocal: We are body and spirit, so it is important to express our spiritual feelings outwardly [we speak].
Meditation: The mind searches to understand what God is saying [we think, imagine, desire and feel].
Contemplation: We are alone with the One who loves us. [God speaks, we listen and experience].
The one who asks through vocal prayer, receives; the one who seeks through meditation, finds; and the one who knocks at the door of contemplation, can change the world one soul at a time.
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In the confrontation between water and the rock the water always wins. Not through strength but through persistence. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The term, “ides” is not a common household word and may only be recognized by those who know more than average about world history, particularly of the Roman Empire. It literally means the halfway point of the month and was made famous by the Ides of March in 44 BC on which the Emperor Caesar was warned and subsequently assassinated. We could say, then, that today, the midway point of the month of March, has at least some impending and demanding aspects to it having to deal with the following introspective questions: what have I done with my time in the first half of this gift of time and what do I intend to do with the last part of it? This is especially pertinent as we find ourselves nestled well into the great Season of Lent.
Let us begin by reviewing the Scriptures of today: “If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” Have I truly repented of all evil and malice and selfishness in my life in light of the great call to fasting and penance? “I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in his word. My soul waits for the LORD more than sentinels wait for the dawn.” Have I truly trusted the Lord Jesus with all my heart and soul and thus experienced peace and calm even through heavy decisions and life demands? “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” Have I been obedient without grumbling or complaining, especially when it was hard to do so?
Now, in looking forward to the rest of this Lenten month of March, what could be our guiding principle?: “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” Perhaps we could make a commitment in the next two weeks to recall on a daily basis the great sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us and how that one single event has to make a difference in the way I act especially with my family and those around me. This deep and meaningful shift within us toward the Messiah can determine the kindness, faithful and hopeful living that needs to be seen in all of us who are Easter people purified, as it were, in these absolutely necessary days of cleansing and renewal.
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“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Julius Caesar, (I, ii, 140-141)
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Once again, Jesus, the new Moses and Lawgiver, transforms our way of life by exacting upon us which some believe is virtually impossible. However, it is not impossible. In the First Reading, Moses reminds us of the ultimate source of all power in this universe who is the ultimate judge and dispenser of all justice. “This day the LORD, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.” 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 be freed of any hatred and the scourge of evil.
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that?” 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.
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Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? Abraham Lincoln
“He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” 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 everything that is happening around me today is either a part of that reality and I should stay focused on its messages and lessons, or it is keeping me from my purpose and direction and therefore I should move on and as quickly as possible. This is certainly one very important way we can understand transformation and transfiguration from the hands of Christ who leads through this Lenten Season. “Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” 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. 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 in this vision of glory the real hope of true happiness in this world to make a suitable place in our souls and hearts for the message of the Gospel of Jesus.
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. Seasons change. There is no such thing as a storm that lasts forever. On this Second Sunday of Lent, 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: “From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard: This is my beloved Son, hear him.”
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I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. Anne Frank
It may take the death of someone very dear to us or some horrendous tragedy or life-altering disappointment to finally take us to the brink of existence to realize that we truly belong to God. Some among us have been blessed from the beginning with a child-like and total trust in God, but for many of us it seems as if we have to grow gradually into that space where we know without a doubt that God exists, that He made me, and that I can trust my entire life to Him. Daniel of our First Reading was one of those totally trusting God-fearing individuals. Yet, he was also ready to beg forgiveness for straying from the fold: “But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God, to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.” The two apparently opposing attitudes are actually quite linked in the depths of love and mercy a person who loves God completely understands. Love and mercy are essential elements of a holy, happy and healthy life in Christ.
No one can claim seriously that they are “self-made.” That simply is not possible. We did not create ourselves as much as some might insist. Precisely because God created and designed and loved us all into existence means that we belong to Him. We can trust that. “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” When one trusts the Lord with everything they have, acknowledges their sinfulness and failings before the Lord, they are much less ready to judge and short-change people around them. Thus, the same standards we apply to others will indeed be applied to us, one way or another, sooner or later. Since we deeply and fundamentally belong to God, then we have an even stronger and compelling reason to get along with each other and practice what we preach. Since all have been created by God, then all have an equal dignity, and the more we can recognize that quality in everyone, even if they themselves do not see it, the closer we come to fulfilling the destiny God has invited us to follow.
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The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people don’t just happen.
Today we joyfully celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus and another excellent installment of our Lenten journey as we continue closer and closer to Holy Week and the glorious Feast of Easter. St. Joseph is the patron of the Church, of all fathers and of a happy death. How can all these three essential elements of life be brought together for our spiritual benefit to undergo the great mysteries of Easter waiting for us at the end of these forty days? As always, we return to the precious Word of God beginning with our First Reading: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me,” and from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans: “I have made you father of many nations.” It is clear that the Lord God wished not only to shepherd us through this valley of tears but also show us a father’s love and guidance just as He bestowed upon His only begotten Son with the awesome figure of Joseph, husband of Mary. Imagine the interaction and parenting that was occurring in the first years of the human formation of the Savior of the world. The Gospel also deepens this desire for loving obedience for us all through Jesus: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
What is also remarkably profound about today’s Feast and the Patron Saint of the Church, the Body of Christ, is the lesson or true and unrelenting obedience to the will of God the Father and the acceptance of what lies ahead in our spiritual lives. St. Joseph accepted everything no matter how difficult or mysterious in his vocation and helped raise and protect Jesus the Messiah, true God and true Man. While it is true that there is no objective magic formula for success, there is an unconditional acceptance of God’s gift of life to us and all that it brings. This he lived even unto his death, premature by some estimates. This is why St. Joseph is the Patron of a happy death because the last face he saw on earth was the first he saw in Heaven. May it be the same for us!
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Go, then to Joseph, and do all that he shall say to you;
Go to Joseph, and obey him as Jesus and Mary obeyed him;
Go to Joseph, and speak to him as they spoke to him;
Go to Joseph, and consult him as they consulted him;
Go to Joseph, and honor him as they honored him;
Go to Joseph, and be grateful to him as they were grateful to him;
Go to Joseph, and love him, as they love him still.
~St. Alphonsus Liguori
“Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.” Sociologist Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University has explored how it is that people make everyday ethical decisions. Many people, he found, perform deeds of compassion, service, and mercy because at some point in their past someone acted with compassion toward them. He wrote, “The caring we receive may touch us so deeply that we feel especially gratified when we are able to pass it on to someone else.” He tells the story of Jack Casey, who was employed as an emergency worker on an ambulance rescue squad. When Jack was a child, he had oral surgery. Five teeth were to be pulled under general anesthetic, and Jack was fearful. What he remembers most, though, was the operating room nurse who, sensing the boy’s terror, said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here beside you no matter what happens.” When Jack woke up after the surgery, she was true to her word, standing right there with him. Nearly twenty years later, Jack’s ambulance team is called to the scene of a highway accident. A truck has overturned, the driver is pinned in the cab and power tools are necessary to get him out. However, gasoline is dripping onto the driver’s clothes, and one spark from the tools could have spelled disaster. The driver is terrified, crying out that he is scared of dying. So, Jack crawls into the cab next to him and says, “Look, don’t worry, I’m right here with you; I’m not going anywhere.” And Jack was true to his word; he stayed with the man until he was safely removed from the wreckage. Later the truck driver told Jack, “You were an idiot; you know that the whole thing could have exploded, and we’d have both been burned up!” Jack told him that he felt that he just couldn’t leave him.
Many years before, Jack had been treated compassionately by the nurse, and because of that experience, he could now show that same compassion to another. His experience of an act of loving service enabled him to do the same for another. In the Alleluia Verse for today, Jesus made it clear: “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”
Following Jesus and living a Christian life which is authentic and inspiring is much more than having a hobby or belonging to a particular political party. It is even more than having a job or a career. Our faith not only points us to what is eternal, but also follows us into that existence. If we live with Jesus here and now, we will enjoy His wonderful presence forever. That is why the Eucharist is essential to the one who understands that this life is passing and heaven is the only real goal worth living and dying for. “For 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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Everyone has a purpose in life and a unique talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals. Kallam Anji Reddy
The pages of all the Scriptures literally shout out with warnings and desperate pleas concerning neglect for the poor and hungry in our world. This seems also to be a theme that has never been applied to just one culture or time period but for all of humanity in every age. The words of the Prophet Jeremiah are as fierce as they are clear about the pride and selfishness that produces this kind of woeful abandonment of the most vulnerable around us: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD.”
The Gospel today makes even a stronger case for realizing our responsibilities for the poor and neglected in this world and the serious consequences that await those who live very selfishly and even hatefully while they walk the earth with the many blessings abounding. “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus
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What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. St. Augustine
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 lawgiver, like him, who would come later and who would require the people’s total allegiance and obedience; the Psalms describe the experiences of David; yet they also speak of David’s greater son, the Messiah. In our First Reading of today, We heard of Joseph son of Israel, who was deeply loved and cherished by his father but who would also face awful rejection: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.” The Scriptural lesson for us today is that for centuries humanity had been waiting for the Messiah, the landowner of heaven and earth, and still many rejected Him. That unfortunately goes on today in our time as was described dramatically in the timely threat that if we cannot produce good fruit with what we have been given, someone else will: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
We clearly have been given a vineyard and a charge: You have a life now use it wisely and carefully. This means, among many other, things, that our very demeanor and actions especially around our families and friends, and co-workers alike must in fact radiate the fact that we do believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and that I have in fact accepted Him here and now.
Every day, especially in these wondrous days of Lenten journey, you and I have wondrous and numerous opportunities to accomplish this. One of the best ways is through forgiveness whenever possible and necessary. Even for our friends. Especially for our friends. The sad turn of events in the parable that Jesus uses to continue to get through to the chief priests, scribes and elders is one of rejection. The truth is, we make literally hundreds of choices every day we walk on this planet from what we will eat and not eat to whom we we will call or not. The wisdom here is found in what to reject and what not to reject. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?”
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What feels like rejection is often God’s protection when we are heading in the wrong direction. Donna Partow
“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance.” It would be more than just a simple sadness if we found ourselves finishing another great Season of Lent and were not in possession with just a little more desire and ease when confronted with the need and call to forgive. And yet, if we were to speak realistically, the lack of ability may equal the lack of desire to even approach any semblance of forgiving someone and letting everything go especially when there is a deep and lasting wound or infraction that is at stake. Why do you think some people will not forgive, at least not yet? Here are just a couple: Some will not forgive another because they want more proof of repentance; others because they are still carrying another hurt from their not-too-distant past and we may have just opened a scab, the proverbial “old wound.” However there is a more deep and inherent reason why some refuse to forgive and it is simple. They have lost the true and essential truth of what Jesus has accomplished for them and for all of us. Redemption!
In an obvious sincere and hopeful attempt to avoid any sadness for us on Easter Sunday, the Scriptures provide us with an even better reason to continue to work toward a forgiving heart and a life dedicated to the mercy of our loving Father. And this is wonderfully found in such a delightful and poignant detail that is found wedged gently within the phrases of the parable that Christ presents to us in the Gospel: “So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.” Could you picture this? The prodigal son has left everything that was important to him and all the people who loved him. The pain caused to his father must have been horrible but even with this hurt, this holy parent still waited outside for his son to return home and then ran to accept him back into his arms. This is God who always is poised to forgive and love. This wondrous love is enough to bring us to forgive everyone who has ever caused us pain. The Psalm gives us the words for the prayer that will lead us to lasting joy: “He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion.”
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To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in others because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. C.S. Lewis
The truth about water is both obvious and critical because it is absolutely fundamental to lasting health, peace of mind and survival. Our bodies are about sixty percent water which, and without it, a person will die within just a few days. Perhaps water is also an important aspect to our spiritual lives while we examine the beautiful readings that are given to us on this Second Sunday of Lent: “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” However, this Scriptural lesson cannot be concerned with just the nutritional aspects of water. The clear connection is with Baptism and the new life that is promised in the Old Testament and then fulfilled by Jesus with whom we travel these days of Lent.
“A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.'” Just as the human body actually pangs and thirsts for water, the soul also desires fulfillment and complete nourishment that can only be satisfied and found in the Lord Jesus. The remarkable aspect of the scene at the well is that it Jesus asking for a drink. What could that possibly signify? Jesus thirsts for the faith of the woman at the well and He is thirsting for you and me to make a commitment to Him and be completely nourished with His presence and His love. The truth is simple: without Jesus we will die; with Him we will constantly be refreshed in His great love. This is the truth about water.
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Like water in the desert is wisdom to the soul. Edward Counsel
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us!’” Today we receive good news for this trying struggle of our wills during the Lenten Season. The goal of finding Jesus and embracing His spirit into our souls forever is coming near. This is the basis of the announcement, or annunciation that we celebrate today. The Feast of the Annunciation remembers and celebrates that moment when the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of our Savior while her freedom was completely intact throughout the encounter. This underscores why we wait and fast and abstain during these days so that our hearts and souls will be ever ready for the Lord to enter our hearts and our entire lives to make sense of this life now and later. It also reminds us of the sacred moment when Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother. It also means that Christmas is now just nine months away!
“Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” Our response is to be patterned after the same as the Virgin Mary responded to the Angel Gabriel. This is what is meant by total openness to God to accomplish on earth what is according to the mind and heart of God. Once we trust that Jesus loves us and wants only the best for us, then all we can do is open our souls in total confidence to His most holy will and pray in the Our Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in\heaven.” Today, as it is the custom in some cultures, is the day where we ask the Lord for the most profound, awesome and seemingly unattainable miracle that we could ever need. This is the day that the Holy Spirit descended onto earth to bring us the tiniest beginnings of our salvation. Ask and you shall receive, “…for nothing will be impossible for God.”
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Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. C. S. Lewis
“Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud: ‘For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant.'” There have been a number of insights shared over the years about the measure of what it means to be a Christian and stay like that until death calls. One year, during a very random series of polls to decipher American opinions and attitudes concerning what a Christian actually looks like. The majority of responses about this question surrounded the notion that a Christian is someone who is nice, let’s you go in before you and says “thank you.” But all that just describes common courtesy, which by some standards, is not that common after all. But there was probably no more insightful and pithy approach to this line of thinking was uttered by G. K. Chesterton when he wrote that “just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” Well said. Thank God we have a sense of humor and a deeper sense of gratitude: “Remember your mercies, O Lord.”
It is a fair question to ask this time around the Lenten track to wonder what we would do differently if this was our last forty days of fasting and prayer before our final curtain call to heaven. It would certainly be worth considering. Maybe we would spend more time with the Lord, or praise Him for all the good times and the bad, or say the things to the people who mean so much how grateful to God we are for them, and forgive and ask for forgiveness.
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The future starts today, not tomorrow. St. John Paul II
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus makes an astounding statement: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” So nothing is going to be altered from the basic understanding and meaning of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. And He continues: “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Thus, there is this healthy and inspiring balance we are called to achieve between what is radically, completely and fundamentally true about our faith, and the expression and practice of this gift all the way till we breathe our last breath. We need to be ready to move forward creatively to new ways of understanding our faith and living it out. The traditions of the past are still valid but we must never get bogged down in them to the extent that we do not respond to the clear signs of the times. Tradition can be understood in two ways: either as a fundamental belief that has existed from the very beginning or simply a way of doing or understanding things which has been around for a long time.
Every year leaves fall from orange and apple tress all across our land. In the spring, newness explodes but every year, even after the changes of time and winter, those are still providing oranges and apples, as opposed to lemons and grapefruit. Yes, lots of change, but the fundamental essence remains. The day we close ourselves to change as well as the fundamental truths of our walk with Jesus, is the day we die, as Moses begs the Israelites to remember: “However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen.”
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To live is to change; to be perfect is to have changed often. John Henry Cardinal Newman
“Thus says the LORD: This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” 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 which is famously known and entitled, “His Master’s Voice.” The painting famously showing a cute dog apparently listening intensely to the original record player which was 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 along 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 continue our days of Lenten journey. 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: “Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Clearly these people had no idea of who was standing right in front of them. Ignorance is certainly not bliss! You see, there is no website, Twitter account or Facebook page that accomplishes the value and depth of speaking and listening directly with the Lord in daily prayer, strengthened by our daily dose of the Scriptures and Eucharistic nourishment. Let us decide this week to make the time and listen intensely to our Master’s voice. He is always ready to start a conversation.
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Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. St. Teresa of Calcutta
“Thus says the LORD: Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt.” When we stop and think about it for a while, Lent is consumed with remembering the most important things in life and realizing how at times our guilt and fear can be so paralyzing. That is why we sacrifice (give up) mundane things which we really do not need so that we can focus on the things in this world that we truly need. This is supported by the underlining meaning from our First Reading today: “Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.”
“But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” Remembering the most important things in life is one of the most important things to do in life. All of what we have experienced and lived must form the fabric of the wisdom and the philosophy of life that we exist and use as we move into the future, which is all in the mind of God who cares and loves us with an everlasting love. During the awesome Season of Lent, we are called and pulled toward memory and freedom. Guilt hurts at first but if it motivates us to change and reform our lives according to Christ, then we will in fact remember how it is that we can find our way to heaven by following the Lord God with every fiber of our being. In turn, we are compelled to pass that on to those we love, especially our children. May we remember the name of the one who has saved us! “I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.”
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 particular Lenten Season is over, that our children, students and friends will not follow our advice—they will indeed follow and remember our example. “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
“Come, let us return to the LORD, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds.” Have you ever had the need to return something? It could have been something you ordered through the mail, or perhaps some food item which was damaged or not all that ripe, or even an entree at a restaurant which just did not make the grade. Why did we do that? We did it precisely because it was not acceptable or good enough for our use and/or consumption. Perhaps in this Lenten Season, we could apply a similar application to our efforts to return to the Lord what we want to change or reform. None of us can rationally say that we are perfect but we can also say with much assurance that we are in need of transformation all the time, up until the day we die. This is why humility is such a gift and a basic need for the spiritual journey as well, in and outside of Lent.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 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 the haughty, arrogant attitude detailed in one of the visitors to the Temple. He was a Pharisee, and 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 called them and rightly so because we read today that this particular Pharisee and all his ilk were not justified. Time for a return to sender.
For today, how about we send the following? To an enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, our heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity, To every child, a good example, To ourselves, respect.Leave a comment
One morning, I stopped on my way to work at a local gas station that is also a convenience store, a vegetable market, a breakfast and lunch counter, and a stage of on-going human drama. Of course, I arrived when there was a long line already formed for everything from unleaded gas to lottery tickets, so I purchased a cup of coffee and some other items and placed them on a small table toward the back while I realized that I left my wallet in my car. As I returned, I witnessed a man of about twenty-five years of age stumble by the table, sit down and literally spill over the coffee onto the fruit and the newspaper which I was about to purchase. “Breathe, breathe…” I continued to think to myself. I began to walk over to the table and once again, “breathe again, it’s the beginning of your day….please God help me right now…”
Slowing down, I was glad the hot coffee had not spilled over his clothes and with no one else around, I guess I could’ve just left everything as it was, but that’s really not my way of doing things. I saw a mop in the nearby closet and just accepted the fact that this nice, freshly ironed and dry cleaned yellow shirt of mine would be less than crisp and ready for my desk work today. When I turned around, I was so thankful for God’s grace and mercy. That young man was blind.
As I neared the table with the mop, I began to say as gently and as slowly as I could, “I’m sorry about all this. It’s my coffee. Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up. No worries.” He tried to apologize as well and before you know it, it was all better and all cleaned. I suggested that we thank God that no one was burned or hurt and that we were both able to walk and still make this day good no matter what. “Jesus defeated death,” I said, “and he can surely take care of little spilled coffee.” One of the attendants, who apparently had been up all night on the graveyard shift, suddenly appeared and barked at both of us, “who’s going to pay for the coffee and all this other stuff?” I looked up and surveyed the man who was easily half a foot taller than me and who obviously played football in high school: “I guess I will, sir.”
“No you won’t!” came a fierce response from the refrigerated coolers around the corner. It came from an older woman, dressed for work, and apparently for action, who continued, “I saw the whole thing. Get away from there! I’ll take care of it!” And with that she not only paid for my items, but yet another set for me and for my blind friend and a coffee for herself and all three of us sat for about ten minutes talking about nothing.
Today we are celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Lent and are now more than halfway through this remarkable season of transformation and growth. What could we learn from what God has exposed us to open our hearts and minds? Let’s take a look:
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” Let us not rush to judgment and quick to rely on the appearances of things. Treasures are lurking. “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” When we trust in Jesus, even through the toughest of moments, light will shine. “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.” We can never be lost if we follow close by the Light of the World because that is precisely why he came to us: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
“Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.” One of the most deceitful and cunning tools of evil is the attempt to portray moments of misery and setback, even emotional and spiritual ones, as never-ending. Nothing could be further from the truth. The one true constant element in the universe is change and thus no matter how bad or how good a situation seems to be, just wait, change is on the way. This, of course, is the constant reminder in our lives of the greatest change for the good and mighty and wonderful at the end of our lives when there will be no change just the present glorious moment for all to enjoy forever in Heaven.
“Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the LORD will be with you.” Thus, in the meantime, we must always be ready and expectant of change and always cling and hold on to the great and powerful lesson of total confidence that Jesus imparts to us, especially highlighted in Holy Week. The Lord has prepared us for the ongoing miracle of new life and resurrection in this life today in the Gospel: “Jesus said to him, ‘You may go; your son will live.’”
He says the same to all of us no matter our circumstances or the enormity of crosses we carry and bear. Life is truly good and all we must do is to remember how it all ends, in total and everlasting victory! To forget this truth, even for a brief moment, may in fact make us look like a fool!
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Ah, well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool, and all His work must be contemplated with respect. Mark Twain
“Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.” Beyond a doubt, we would all die without water. By extension, our souls are in grave danger without the flowing waters of baptism that make an end of sin and death and shine the bright promise of eternity with God upon our earthly lives. Healing and strength are gifts along the way which we need to keep going.
Imagine for a second the sick man in today’s Gospel who had been fighting his disease (we are not sure what it was) for thirty-eight years! And still there he was by the pool of Bethesda hoping with all his might for a cure and a new life. That sounds a lot like you and me. Then there came that day when Jesus approached him and changed his life forever: “Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your mat, and walk.’ Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.” Sometimes we learn the hard way that we must get up first from our old ways of life and self-loathing and reach out for the loving hand of Christ. He is certainly there waiting. The great news for this Lenten Weekday is that Jesus wants us to walk with Him and live the life He wants for us. He wishes for us to thrive not just survive.
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Today I close the door to the past, open the door to the future, take a deep breath, step on through and start a new chapter in my life. Emmy van Deurzen
As we move with ever greater speed and anticipation to the great mysteries of Holy Week, the words of the Scriptures that are lavished upon us are simply breath-taking. The Psalm assures us that our beautiful God is always there waiting for us and wanting for us to live in happiness and joy: “The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works. The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” Jesus can and will accomplish the greatest miracle in our lives because of the intense, powerful and loving relationship that exists in the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.”
But perhaps the most tender of all morsels that have been distributed in due season to us today is the awesome image of a mother and her own child that is provided in our First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forge
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God will never leave you empty. He will replace everything you lost. If He asks you to put something down, it is because He wants you to pick something greater. Jordan Smith
“I see how stiff-necked this people is. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.” For those of us who are sincerely trying 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.
“The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” Today, let us carry Jesus deep within our souls so that we do or say nothing that would displease him. A stiff neck is not pleasant neither on the body nor on the soul. To be stubborn when it comes to growing closer to God and surrendering our pride is not a virtue. This is the challenge and fruit of being loving people who love God and our neighbor. Be determined, not stubborn. Determination is positive, feels light and will take us far with the grace of God. It is a willingness to change as needed and always keeping an open mind. Stubbornness is a heavy feeling and a refusal to budge. A negative, closed mind can never reflect the face and attitude of Christ. It is truly an exciting adventure. Pride will always be the longest distance between two people.
An hour can be the twenty-fourth part of a day culminating in sixty minutes or it can be a moment in time that can change everything. “This could be your hour” is a phrase that can have deep and meaningful meaning for many people. We could say that our moment can be upon us but we must be able to recognize it without distraction or fear. This is what we can glean from the Gospel today: “So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.”
So how is it that so many miss their moment? We have a clue in our First Reading: “These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God.” If you and I are distracted by the things of the world, we will not possibly be present to the moment when God opens His heart and reveals His wonderful plan for our lives. They say that opportunity only knocks once but God’s love and mercy are everlasting: “Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all the LORD delivers him.” This is your hour. Take it!
“I knew their plot because the LORD informed me; at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings.” Conspiracies, scheming and underhanded plots against people are as old as dirt. This is our first impression as we open the Scriptures for today beginning with the Prophet Jeremiah. This is because from before the dawn of time, Lucifer who was totally consumed with jealousy against the human race and thus feebly rallied against God in the quintessential battle in Heaven that eventually formed the rotting graveyard of Hell, lodged the ongoing plot against the human race to bring as many souls to his malicious self. And since that time, the Lord continued to unveil His great resolution to save us from that awful power and bring us all safe home: “O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.”
“So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” No more obvious is the presence of this plot against the human race is when people are close to seeing, accepting and following the Lord Jesus. Perhaps you have seen this very drama play out in your circle of influence. Evil will stop at nothing to bring attention and commitment away from the very solution that could save us from the fires of everlasting condemnation. This is why during our Lenten practices we are made to see things much more clearly and strengthen to make the necessary changes to avoid evil and cling to Jesus while we are walking in the desert with Him. The beautiful truth is that there is an even greater plan and strategy for all of us in the suffering, death and Resurrection of Christ. He would rather die than live forever without us!
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For a plot hatched in hell, don’t expect angels for witnesses. Robert Perry
“Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” Everyone on this planet has a purpose. There is simply no way around that. The fact that we are alive and breathing, that we are asking such deep questions about life and death and meaning clearly points to the reality that there is definitely more to life than what it seems. When you and I believe that God has a purpose for our being here, we can work through obstacles, overcome disappointments and endure many hardships and crosses. It is what Jesus showed us. The more we dig into our own experiences and plant with faith and hope, the greater the harvest, not just later in eternity but right here and now. The fact that God wants to save us from all the power and forces of death and darkness signals the great purpose for which we were created and the immeasurably joyous destiny that truly awaits us. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” And the Lord of Life who is the Light of the World is the only source of direction that can take us through the sometimes dark skies of night and loneliness of isolation. Imagine the darkness and solitude of the grave right before the explosive glory of Easter.
“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.” Following Jesus does not mean that every day is going to be perfect. It means that the harder the moment the more willing he is for us to hold on to Him for dear life. Telling someone with anxiety to just calm down is like telling someone with epilepsy to just stop having a seizure. However, inviting a person to join the pain and suffering to those of the Lord will have lasting effects. This is what is meant by dying to oneself so that a great harvest can be witnessed. Dying to self does not mean giving up what may be good for us. This means letting go of what is not beneficial so that we can see and accept what is. Wouldn’t you rather suffer and die with Christ so as to live with Him forever? I know I would.
“As soon as the maids had left, the two old men got up and hurried to her. ‘Look,’ they said, ‘the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us; give in to our desire, and lie with us.'” Today we have an interesting pair of Scriptures to help prepare our remaining days of Lent. The first concerns the famous attempted fatal lie against Susanna on the part of two ruthless and morally bankrupt individuals who tried to frame Susanna in the garden where she innocently passed her time. Thank God for the confident, wholesome and honest voice of Daniel who exposed their treachery by asking just a couple of simple, innocent questions. Susanna’s trust in the Lord was confirmed: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.” Her resolve to stand with the truth and to trust in the Lord is more than just a model of behavior for us during Lent and during the duration of our time on earth, but the very pattern of existence because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross and out of the grave.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In the Gospel, again we hear annoyingly from the Pharisees who seem to never lose a chance to try to either accuse Jesus of some monstrosity or attack His authority and wisdom. This is how it will be for all of us who want desperately to follow Jesus all the way to eternity. His truth was also found in the garden, the garden tomb from whence He rose and defeated death forever. We must remember these garden experiences so that when we are attacked, confused or even overly tired and anxious, we may never forget that God is love and often times, truth is found in the garden.
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Truth makes all things beautiful. Edward Counsel
“Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” Our First Reading makes an inspiring case for the deep relationship between our sins, our pain, our incessant desire for healing, and the free offer of forgiveness of the sins that cause us so much pain and guilt. Moses dealt with the criticism and pessimistic reaction on the part of the Israelites for all that the Lord had done for them and in response, they were bitten by horribly attacking snakes which must have been quite a sight! Their unending complaints were answered by sheer harshness and fear. What is beautifully clear today is the Lord truly wants us to be safe, happy and holy. Our own sins and failings often stand in the way and present an enormous stumbling block to achieving all that God has intended for us, including acknowledging and receiving His healing forgiveness to a greater healthier spiritual life. Moses was commanded to construct a bronze serpent so that anyone who would look up it would be cured and saved. That must have taken an immense act of faith and well, well worth it.
“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.” It is, however, in the Gospel where the real truth to unlock the mystery of true inner freedom that is characteristic of a true believer and those who desperately want to get to Heaven. It is to take seriously the innocence, total trust and openness to look up at the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, lifted up on the cross so that all may be cured and saved. Jesus made this more than crystal clear in the Gospel: Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.”
When you are suffering or worried or anxious, look up at the cross to see your Jesus there wanting everything that is good for you. Accept this in faith and never look back. It would also help not to complain so much, either.
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When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness. Eckhart Tolle
By now there are many of us who could agree with the marvelous assessment of those deep within the fire bravely and accurately uttered by the three young men hurled into the hottest of all possible flames in today’s First Reading: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!” Our specific take on this observation would need to be tweaked just a little: If our beautiful and merciful Lord preserved us during these days of Lent then He can do even greater things! This much is certainly true and we have only a couple of more weeks, until the fulfillment of the Easter promise of Resurrection will be ours in abundance. We just need to hold on to this truth in our lives.
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And this is the truth: God loves us so much that He even wants us to be better with every passing day, especially the passing days of our Lenting this year. The Lord has been, is today and will always be at our side assisting us in our daily struggle to become more like Jesus in every way possible. This is the bright promise of Easter made during the somewhat dark, at least purple, days of Lent. If we accept this truth, the consequences are literally out of this world.
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The difference between a good life and a bad life is how well you walk through the fire. C. G. Jung
“On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.” If there is such a thing as a science of belonging it would most certainly have to include behavior as an essential element of what it means to be part of something much larger than life itself. Today in the Scriptures, this belonging has to do with the Family of God in faith and acting in certain modes of belief that causes an entire group of people to stand apart from the rest. This is what is actually meant by “holy.” This is precisely where our modern-day understanding and practice of fasting and other Lenten practices have originated, especially the actual marking of ashes on the forehead. This clearly sets us apart as a group of people with the same or similar mindset and definitely the same goal: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
“No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations.” Such an acceptance of so universal an invitation makes a definite and indelible change within the individual and the whole people. Such was the case with Abram who became Abraham. The same happened to Saul who became Paul and Simon who became Peter. All had their name changed because their entire destiny and future had undergone a magnificent and overwhelming overhaul. Lent is the same for us. Hopefully, by now, we can sense these deep-rooted changes to our hope and our direction toward Heaven. We are so close to our goal this year!
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Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays. Soren Kierkegaard
“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.” In some dictionary excerpts, distress is defined as extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain. Human life encounters distress all throughout the experience that we engage while on earth and the Lord knows that we must be ready and fully equipped to face whatever we must to grow and become a new creation in Christ.
“Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?’” There are, however, not a small number of people who do not accept the call of grace to see things in life with the eyes of faith and then in turn blame God for every ill and problem under the sun. Because of spiritual blindness and a faithless approach to reality, they seem to actually attack God as Jesus was in the Gospel today. Our stance, especially throughout these days of Lenten Journey must be entirely different: “Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” Imagine singing to God when life is hard and burdensome. Yet, that is exactly the remedy!
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Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. Paulo Coelho
“I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.” When we look and study all the moments of the life of Jesus, we realize that the Lord does not introduce anything new in terms of human experiences but rather elevates and imbues tremendous meaning and purpose into them. When evil and the demons of our lives approach, we realize first-hand that we truly need faith in the one who can handle and defeat them. These present themselves as conflicts which call us to make choices:
Conflicts: Every last one of us must face conflicts practically every day of our lives, even if they surface from with us. Therefore, it is not an indication or measurement of how much we are loved when we have issues or problems, but rather what we are going to do with them.
Choices: When Jesus calls a person to follow Him, it necessarily involves the fundamental option whether to accept him or to reject him; and the world is always divided into those who have accepted Christ and those who have not. Everyone makes choices every day. This choice, however, affects eternity and forever is a very, very long time.
A Cross: The original audience of Jesus experienced tremendous suffering and loss. They knew very well what a cross was. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions the swift and cruel action of Publius Quinctilius Varus, a Roman General under the Emperor Augustus who crushed a revolt in Judea in 4 BC. After occupying Jerusalem, he crucified two thousand Jewish rebels and placed the crosses by the wayside along the roads to Galilee. This is why Jesus had and has tremendous compassion for His people, then and now: “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”
Our daily dose of the Word leads us to understand and fully engage the conflicts, choices and crosses in our lives. When we are worried, it is because we are trying to do things ourselves. When we are at peace it is because we remember that God is in control. “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”
Among several cultures on our planet, there exists a delightful little story about a young donkey and his mother who was trying desperately to prepare her young son for the ravages and cruelty of the world which typically never treated these animals with much respect. Coming home, however, one day, the young animal was full of excitement and unbelievable joy. He had a small job earlier that morning and everyone was shouting with respect and joy and even throwing palm branches in front of him so that the walk on the hard surface would be less strenuous. “They love us, Mama!,” he shouted with almost unbelief. “They now respect us! We are free!” His kind mother looked with love upon her somewhat idealistic son and simply said, “We are free as long as we carry greatness upon our backs.” “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here.” (Opening Gospel Before Procession with Palms)
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday while ushering in the great mystery of Holy Week when we commemorate Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with gleeful and exuberant shouts of “Hosanna.” It was, however, a short-lived moment of public popularity for Jesus. In just a few days the feckless crowds would become violent and hostile crying out for His execution. The donkey would be traded for a cross. By the end of the week on Good Friday, the burden-bearer would be Jesus Himself and a donkey would not be carrying Christ – Christ would be carrying the cross. He would not be astride the back of a donkey’s back, but rather a cruel, albeit, redemptive cross would be crushing upon His back!
Let us begin and let us pray:
“All-powerful, eternal God, You have chosen to give us all a model of humility; our Savior took on our flesh, and subjected Himself to the Cross. Grant us the grace to preserve faithfully the lessons He has given us in his Passion and to have a share in His Resurrection. Amen.”
“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” This particular and perhaps familiar Gospel passage has been quoted and misquoted, applied and misapplied by so many over the centuries, literally ever since it was first transcribed. This, among many other factors, is exactly why it is simply not enough to know what the Bible says, but what it means. You see, on a first glance, the phrase about always having the poor seems almost fatalistic, as if to suggest that there is really no use to address the issue of poverty because we will never rid our society from it, but that is so far from the meaning. Jesus was actually quoting another well-known Biblical passage from Deuteronomy which sets the context of the poor and our response in a very different context: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) Thus, realistically and with the greatest of authentic interpretation, the Lord Jesus is enthusiastically begging us to be “open-handed” toward the poor among us. Holy Week begins for most of us with this deep and emotional call to be aware of those who suffer in our own circles, perhaps right in front of us and to respond quickly, deeply and readily.
In this most awesome week, we must see our own roles to feed the hungry and lift up the poor among us. In the New Testament humble beginning
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What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. Saint Augustine
George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying that the “single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” While there are many different explanations and approaches to explain and or further expand on this thought, for today let us consider what Jesus has done for us and how we respond based on what we have in the dramatic unfolding of events in the Gospel as we move through Holy Week this year. First we begin with the explosive observation that Jesus makes to His closest friends that one of them is about to betray Him and send Him to death: “Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’” Each Apostle in the upper room took the phrase in a different light. One or two began to blame themselves. Perhaps a few couldn’t or wouldn’t believe what they just heard. Peter impulsively sprang to action and pledged undying loyalty and protection while Judas knew exactly who the Lord was talking about.
“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.” On this Tuesday in Holy Week, we are called to pay even closer attention to what is being said to each of us as it may relate to our individual circumstances especially in our spiritual lives. When you hear, “one of you is about to betray me,” what is the first thing that comes to your heart and mind? Is there any evidence whatsoever that would or could suggest betrayal in our lives? The next pertinent question would then be, to whom or what? To God? Our spouse? Our family and friends? The reality is simple during this very holy time: everything that is uttered and celebrated has deep meaning and significance and must be addressed with courage and fidelity. We must make this week different by what we do with it. Now, lift that up in prayer and wait patiently for the inspiration that will come, guaranteed!
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Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare. Brené Brown
“The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Imagine the pain of a person when they realize they have wounded and perhaps forever severed the most wonderful and awesome relationship that they will ever encounter. Now compound this upon the world stage of history and we may have something close to the experience of Judas, the man who betrayed the Son of God. “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” His name has become synonymous with any notorious traitor even to this very day. In addition to this remarkable infamy, there has developed a popular hatred of Judas in various parts of Christendom. On the Greek island of Corfu, for example, the people at a given signal on Holy Saturday night, throw vast quantities of crockery from their windows and roofs into the streets, and thus execute an imaginary stoning of Judas.
However interesting, the painful truth for us to face on this midway of Holy Week is the potential for each of us to betray love itself in our own lives. This comes when we allow selfishness and hate to brood within us so that we do not not even realize the pain and misery we are inflicting upon others and, by extension, to our very souls. What happens is that we become so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves. Perhaps the pains and disappointments of life create hurt and deep wounds beyond our imagination. The paradox of this week deeply entwined with the whole teaching of Jesus the Christ is simple in many ways. If we love until it hurts, then there can be no more hurt, just more love to give. (St. Theresa of Calcutta) It is then, and only then, can we shout and sing with the most joyous voice we have, joining the refrain of today’s Psalm: “I will praise the name of God in song, and I will glorify him with thanksgiving: ‘See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.’”
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The shattering of a heart when being broken is the loudest quiet ever. Carroll Bryant
Although it is not plausible to debate that eating is essential to our survival, that it is deeply symbolic and that it is enjoyed across the board by every known culture on the planet, we can and should open the debate lines concerning how we have lost the meaning of meals and the richness of gathering to feast especially in our modern times. For example, it appears that breakfast is often a shake of everything from protein, fruits, or a soda with ice, lunch a sandwich gobbled in front of the computer, and dinner, when hurriedly arranged or just accidentally falling into place, is quickly consumed usually in front of the television blaring or everyone with their phones checking social media posts and or texts. Even though we see commercials to the contrary and movies and listen to heart-felt pitches to act otherwise, we still continue with this rapid feeding frenzy. Perhaps it is because eating like this satisfies some basic needs as it fuels our bodies. But being fed is not the same as being nourished. This is how and why we must understand the great significance of Holy Thursday, when Jesus the Christ uttered those immortal words that have since been repeated over the centuries and the great span of time: “This is my body…this is my blood…do this in memory of me.” Our First Reading begins to set the stage for this deeper awareness of the simplicity of eating: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.” Our lives have been bought and purchased and at an amazing cost! None of us are here “by accident.” We each have a deep and enriching purpose which we must find and for that journey must be fed: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
While thought-out mealtime practices and rituals can draw us into a state of increased awareness, our appreciation for the Eucharist can give sight to the vision we need to focus on the things that really matter in this life and to get home safe to Heaven when it is all said and done. Jesus does so much more this night as well. He teaches us that not only do we take meaningful time when we sit and share food but also take every opportunity and chance to serve, even to the point of washing each other’s feet. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Today, especially on this day, we need to remember what the initial impression of this passage made on initial First Century audience: even art and literary works have somewhat romanticized this event, it was not really beautiful to them. It was not even humbling, it was actually humiliating. You see to wash another’s feet was a dirty job reserved for slaves. Today this action would be tantamount to going to someone’s house to clean their bathroom including the toilet. Maybe caregivers who have to clean and wash and witnessed the worst in a person’s life are closest to the real meaning of this marvelous gesture. As Jesus feeds us with His very Body and Blood, He is assuring us that He is showing us and expecting us to be the least among us. It is easy to do great things for those we love. What about doing the hard things for those we don’t even know or even better, know that we will never be able or willing to say thank you. This is selfless and it is what this night is all about: empty yourself like Jesus did so where He has gone, we can follow.
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If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. J.R.R. Tolkien
†Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, Love leaves a memory no one can steal. —-from a headstone in Ireland
Today is Good Friday. Why do we call it “good?” This is the first day of what the Church has long in her sacred history called the Triduum. These are the three glorious days that end Lent, enter the tomb of Jesus and rise with Him at Easter. It could be said that we call this good because although everyone wears a mask of sorts as we present to the world the person we want others to see, today we remember the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus so that you and I can reach true spiritual maturity which is that point where a person no longer hides behind any pretense, removes the mask of deceit and fear, exchanges the fashion statement for integrity and truly begins to live a holy life. Every year on Good Friday when this day arrives, it is certainly different for each one of us. It’s always different because either someone has died in the last year, a friend has become ill or incapacitated, another year has passed from the time we lost a dear loved one, and we ourselves have lived another year, presumably, one year closer to our own death.
This is why the Scripture passages and the yearly reading of the Passion we have for Good Friday are simply priceless. We came from God, and slowly but surely, we are moving back to him, face-to-face, to give whatever account we have of how we used these precious pearls of time while we were alive. I guess that’s why there are some who can’t (or won’t) deal with death. The message and experience must be too much, too overwhelming. I have also known people who have down right rejected God with a kind of indignation and misplaced anger for “having taken my loved one away.” That’s actually more tragic than death itself because there is absolutely no way you can arrive at a spiritual and mental place of peace and comfort— or even effectively through the grieving process —without the one who defeated death on the cross. Grief is the price we pay for loving and less we think that getting through this life without love is some kind of viable option, when you really think about it, it is indeed a fair price.
The readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Psalm 31, the Letter to the Hebrews and the Passion according to St. John all clearly and effectively underscore that truth. God is in control. He sent His Son Jesus to take away the eternal price of our sins and Jesus gave us the Church so that through the centuries of time and space, we would remain together in hope and prayer until the day comes for us.
+May the Divine Assistance remain always with us and May the souls of all the faithful departed,through your mercy, O God, Rest in Peace. Amen
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Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
For those among us who are blessed to attend the Easter Vigil tonight, will have encountered and entered a most wonderful mystery that the Church has to offer as a way of truly making the Easter experience the great moment it truly is. What we do tonight is nothing more than waiting at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on His passion and death and awaiting His glorious resurrection with prayer and fasting. When we think about it, we spend a great part of our lives waiting for everything from simple mundane things like traffic lights and parking spaces to remarkably awesome milestones in life like the announcement of a new baby, job or the tragic news we have all been waiting for. A vigil is the liturgical commemoration of a notable feast, held on the evening preceding the feast much like Christmas Eve. The actual term means “wakefulness” because we stay awake to pray and prepare for the dawn of Easter and, by extension, for the individual experiences we will have of our own death and resurrection and of those we love and cherish in this world. For our purposes here, let us take a look at the diagram of Liturgical Readings for tonight and follow them in our journey toward the empty tomb:
Reading 1: Genesis-God creates with His Word and Holy Spirit over the waters
Reading 2: Genesis-God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac his only son.
Reading 3: Exodus-Moses parts the Red Sea and leads his people out of slavery through the waters
Reading 4: Isaiah-The prophet reminds us of the safe passage of Noah through the waters
Reading 5: Isaiah-The prophet invites all to come to the waters
Reading 6: Baruch-The prophet issues a pledge of wisdom and a return to God
Reading 7: Ezekiel-The people of God will be cleansed by water and live in God’s land
Epistle: Baptism through water and the Holy Spirit is our way to union with God and promise of Heaven
Gospel: The tomb is empty; God did not spare His own Son and thus Jesus has defeated death forever
You see, Easter is about the continuing cycle of life, death, life in an amazingly complicated and mysterious pattern that underscores and straps all reality together. This means so much to our human race and yet different takes and aspects based on the conditions and lived experience of everyone alive. But one thing is certain. Everyone dies; not everyone lives. Let us live in the light of Christ this night and always.Leave a comment
“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” At this wonderful culmination of these days of lenting and detachment, we have come to the morning of our dreams. God has accomplished the victory He promised for us and we are glad indeed. Death has been destroyed forever and now the gates of Heaven, once closed because of selfishness and sins, are open for all humanity to enter with integrity and hope. It was on the “first day of the week” that this glory was discovered because it is the beginning of all our expectations every time we awaken in the morning. Thus, every beginning we have before us is the glimmer of the bright promise of tomorrow. Mary of Magdala was alone in approaching the burial place of the dead. This detail reminds us that each of us must face this truth on the path that we choose and envision, enlightened by the Church and the Word of God. Then, we join the millions who experience the same longing fulfilled and relieved even in the face of death. Although she did not actually see the moment of Resurrection, (she) “saw the stone removed from the tomb,” Mary knew what the scene meant: death had been conquered and Jesus is alive. This is assuredly our call for today and every day on this planet. We must look for, find and cling mercifully to the wonders of our lives which all point to the miraculous endings of all our stories nestled wonderfully in the heart of Jesus the Messiah who has risen from the dead.
Perhaps the most telling and soothing detail of John’s Easter Gospel today is this tender yet poignant morsel: “while it was still dark.” How often do our lives take swings and turns into chapters that we would never had imagined! How often have we found ourselves “in the dark” as well? And yet, whatever joy and happiness we may feel today must be kept safe and sound, deep within the recesses of our hearts, so that when we find that it is still dark, we must continue to make our way to the Lord with all the hope and faith that we can muster and share. “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” (St. John Paul II)
On behalf of all those who make CityOfAgape, its mission and its hope to bring the Word of God to everyone hungering for meaning and purpose in this life, please accept our heartfelt wishes for a happy, holy and beautiful Easter! “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” (Responsorial Psalm)Leave a comment
Every so often, we or someone we know has the experience of waking up from a terrible dream nearly paralyzed with fear and even at times unable to speak or move. Likewise we may have most likely heard well-intentioned people attempt to explain these terrifying moments as attributed to stress or worry over circumstances in our lives. Be that as it may, we must face the glaring fact that life can and often does hurl directly at us episodes of challenge, difficulty and internal and external struggles that can be frightening and cause us to respond like we do in those terrible dreams. For some others, even more unfortunately, there seems to be no rest from these terrors. Life itself seems to be a nightmare with no end. It is for such as these that the gift of Easter is so precious. Imagine holding Jesus tight and close to us so as to never have to be afraid again. The Scriptures today assure us that we can. “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.”
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’” Another rich and exciting element of the newly begun Easter Season is the call to engage the spirit of the time with all we meet. We must tell others of why we are an Easter people and why we must keep singing and remembering that there is always hope in every single situation no matter how dark it may seem. Let us begin on this first Monday of Easter. Continue to tell all you meet of the hope we celebrate by saying “Happy Easter” with a great big ol’ smile on your face. Tell them all, “Jesus sent me.”
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The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake. Basil Hume
“And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” With all the wonderful talk and mention of the glorious resurrection of Jesus at this great time of Easter, there will no doubt be the recollection of the state from which our resurrected bodies will join the heavenly faithful and crowds of immense joy, which, by definition, is death. In some parts of the world, many flock to the cemetery to place Easter flowers, mostly lilies which mimic the blare of trumpets of the season at the tombs of those who did not live to see this particular Easter and perhaps those who have since long been absent from the table. And because of the humanity we share and the tender hearts that beat within many brave souls, there will be tears today. This is why we need the witness of Mary Magdalene today to bring everything into sharp and hopeful focus: “She said to them, ‘They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.’”
Like Mary Magdalene, many of our crosses and sufferings that produce momentary crisis phases in our souls stem from the not-so-obvious fact that we may be looking for God’s comfort and consolation in the places that could never provide them. Once again, Mary points us in the right direction: “Mary went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and then reported what he had told her.” Excited or mournful, the only true way to celebrate the Easter Season, officially fifty days of commemoration, after the forty days of fasting and penance, is to look for Christ and find him in everyday life and then tell others that you have seen Him. Life cannot possibly ever be the same.
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Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality. —Emily Dickinson
“I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” How many times have any of us heard something like, “I would give a million dollars to see my father again!”? What that emotional phrase (and many like it) screams to connect is simple. What is precious to the world is not necessarily precious to my soul. After forty grueling days of Lent we can begin to see what truly has value and supreme importance as was described in our First Reading today. The totally transformed disciples of Jesus now have in their circle of life the most wonderful and awesome of all gifts: the name of Jesus and the faith that supports a life that can have deep meaning, healing and eternal consequences.
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” The answer to this surprising revelation of the two travelers who were actually walking with the Lord and even breaking bread with Him is simple: Yes, they were! And the best news for you and me today is that they can still continue to burn if we allow them to. This will come from thanking God for the rich blessings and lessons of Lent, asking Him to guide and direct us today especially in the ongoing effort to change, transform and become forgiving people, no matter what is happening around us. Remember, Jesus does not want us to be like other people. He wants us to be like Him. This is so much better than silver or gold.
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To holy people, the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport. His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living. John Henry Cardinal Newman
“Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” Take special note of what just happened in the Gospel. The Apostles are talking about life, suffering, God and the Messiah, then Jesus appears to bless peace to everyone and yet, their first interpretation of the event is that they are witnessing an episode from the SyFy Channel. The problem here is simple: to see while the remedy is close by. Jesus first asks why there are troubled hearts. Right after that remark He tenderly instructs the only way to combat fear and doubt: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” What we must see today is that unreasonable and irrational fear can only successfully be combated by reverting back to the entire mystery of Easter which is the awesome truth that Jesus has not only defeated death but also all the forces of evil and darkness. He is on our side. We start to shake and quiver when we forget this wonderful Truth.
The First Reading also recognizes that as human beings, still affected by the vestiges of original sin, make mistakes out of many different reasons and faulty mindsets. St. Peter was certainly magnanimous in his own personal assessment of this predicament of ours: “Now I know, brothers and sisters, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did,” and then later in that same reading: “For you first, God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” Easter brings light and clarity to our minds because it reveals that the massive, archetypal and age-old battle between good and evil has already been won. We are now offered the chance to share in that victory should we choose to do so with the freedom and wisdom that has been purchased for us by the blood of the Lamb. Remember during this glorious Easter Season that earth’s worst day and best day were just one day apart.
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In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves. Laurie Halse Anderson
Sometimes a great and significant event in life, while answering some very perplexing worries and anxieties, also produces another level of questions that have the potential of taking us to a new and deeper level of living. There is a hint of that aspect of life nudged within the confines of the Psalm today: “The LORD is God, and he has given us light.” The touching scene in the Gospel also supports this approach when Jesus, already risen from the dead, invites his Apostles and closest friends He had on earth to go deeper: “So he said to them, ‘Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.’” Indeed, they did find something. It was the living, breathing, loving Church that Jesus had died to start and give to the world.
“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Like so much of the accumulated wisdom that has been gathered over the centuries over such an amazing span of time, what is real and holy and immersed in truth is usually quite simple. It is the name of Jesus that has the power to save, producing a true and abiding adherence to Him personally and to all He has taught and given to us, even today. This is what we search for here on earth. This is what brings us peace. This is yet another wonderful fruit of Easter. Tonight, before retiring from the day, go fishing: call out His name, then listen.
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Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. Henry David Thoreau
“Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.” Among the nuances in the dictionary world, there seems to be consistent agreement when it comes to the definition of boldness: a willingness to take risks and act with innovation, confidence or courage. This would certainly more than adequately describe Peter and John and all those who experienced the first Easter. There are those who believe that the real challenge in life is to overcome fear that tends to overwhelm and inhibit real, healthy living. For this level of life we all truly need the virtues that come from the side of the resurrected Christ. He is the source of all we need to make our way through the hills and valleys of the swinging moods and seasons of our journey: “My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.”
The Gospel for this beautiful Easter Saturday reveals the real purpose and mission of this boldness that is bestowed on all believers at Easter: “He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.’” Now the bulk of us reading this today are not being placed on the next flight into a war-torn area on the planet nor are we walking into any real danger as so many who have died for the faith. However, we are being sent. Where? We are placed on this earth for a very specific and awesome purpose. That purpose is all about what happened on that first Easter morning, about life and death and all the elements that form the fabric of existence. Think about all the things you said to others today. Were you bold?
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People who ask confidently get more than those who are hesitant and uncertain. When you’ve figured out what you want to ask for, do it with certainty, boldness and confidence. Don’t be shy or feel intimidated by the experience. You may face some unexpected criticism, but be prepared for it with confidence. Jack Canfield
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” On this Second Sunday of the glorious Easter Season, we are presented as we are every year, with this insight into human behavior as it relates to doubt and confidence, and how the normal process of knowing and believing either feed or starve our doubts. Our main character in this lesson is the Apostle Thomas, who, by most accounts, has been unfortunately dubbed with the nickname “doubting Thomas” although it hardly describes adequately his whole life which in the end he gave completely to Christ in martyrdom. However, his painful doubts teach us something very real about our faith. You see, perhaps St. Thomas was so used to seeing Jesus right in front of him, talking and teaching on a daily basis so that when all of sudden He was taken away, he refused to believe and get his hopes up over what he considered a “reasonable” doubt. “You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord; blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!”
“Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” Doubt has the potential of strengthening our faith and hope but not if we entertain too much of it and then surround ourselves with people who neither have faith nor hope which, according to the last survey, are growing in number and kind. In the Gospel, the very opposite was true. Faith spread like wildfire and the miracles in life began to increase exponentially. This is where a healthy prayer life, daily dose of Scripture and adherence to the Eucharist make all the difference in this world and the next. Starve your doubts and feed your faith.
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Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt. William Shakespeare
“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man once grown old be born again?'” Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin assembly who is particularly known for visiting Jesus at night. He couldn’t risk being seen with the Lord during the day because, well, he couldn’t be caught dead speaking with the “rabble-rouser.” Part of him really wanted to know and learn and actually spend time with someone he deeply admired but the pressure of public and private opinions came at too high a price that it was better to be covered safely by the dead of night than to be associated with such a man in bright sunlight. Time was to eventually change all this and bring both men in each other’s company in a most dramatic and memorable way. This is precisely what it means to have a life-changing encounter with the Lord that changes things forever. This is that new conversion and being born again that is so wanting and needed in our world and Church today.
“As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Our deep and lasting call during the Easter Season and in fact, throughout the rest of our lives, is live our faith in such a way that is indeed bold, makes a huge difference and causes us to interpret and face all the crosses of life with deep courage and resilience. All because Jesus lives within me and greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.
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Receive every day as a resurrection from death, as a new enjoyment of life; meet every rising sun with such sentiments of God’s goodness, as if you had see it, and all things, new-created upon your account and under the sense of so great a blessing. let your joyful heart praise and magnify so a good and glorious a Creator. William Law
“You must be born from above.” There are not many more phrases in Sacred Scripture than this one that has been interpreted and re-interpreted, applied and re-applied, both accurately and otherwise than this one that we find at the beginning of the Gospel of today. How does one understand being re-born or born again? Perhaps there are some clues in the other sections of the Scriptures we have today. We could point first to the generous spirit that has experienced the joy of the resurrection: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Then there is the powerful witness that we can give to the Lord as did the Apostles: “With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.” And finally, we can be born again by the sheer and deep confidence we place in God: “Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed: holiness befits your house, O LORD, for length of days.”
However, the most profound path to rebirth in the power of the resurrection is simply to gaze upon the Crucified Christ, unite our sufferings with His and hope for all our days in His power to save and the promise that is ours to be saved: “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.” We must slow down in order to catch up, pause in order to soar, and reflect in order to learn. This we can do with the Lord Jesus right at our side guiding, if we allow Him, every step of the way with the Scriptures as our friend. This is the Easter joy we so desperately seek.
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“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.'” Billy Graham
“But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” So much on our planet needs light in order to grow and survive. Conversely, things like mold and mildew flourish in the darkness and cause a whole slew of problems ranging all across the board. Amazingly, today we are instructed that the same values and standards apply to our spiritual life and our relationship with God and our present-day happiness and our future fulfillment. When we expose our lives to the light of Jesus in our prayer and our honest assessment of our conscience, we can expect great things to happen and to experience great peace of mind and heart. Guilt does an incredible amount of damage to the human soul and we are the only ones who can make the difference by choosing to be transparent, honest and truthful, especially in our dealings with one another.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” This kind of living is not difficult or complicated. It will involve a deeply open, honest and loving relationship with Jesus Christ which is nourished by prayer and sacrifice and a strong desire to spend more and more time with Him in this busy and frenetic life of ours. Perhaps the great gift of our imagination can be of service to us with all this in mind. Let us imagine Jesus sitting right next to us when we are perplexed by anything. Can you see yourself slightly turning toward Him asking for advice? Can you hear Him gently whispering to you? So what are you waiting for?
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People are like stained – glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
On this beautiful Thursday, we are presented in the First Reading with a dramatic and very telling dialogue that makes perfect sense for all of us who are attempting to follow the light of Christ throughout the days we have been given on this planet. First the Sanhedrin, clearly angry and disgusted with the Apostles, begin this exchange: “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name.” What is curious about this inflammatory statement is that it seems the high court is more upset about the name of Jesus than over the fact the Apostles are still alive and being received with great respect than themselves. It is all about the name! Invoking someone’s name like this announces not only a closeness and reverence for the person who bears the name, but also the willingness to follow, emphasize and share this relationship with everyone in one’s own circle of influence, with in fact, the whole world. The Apostles made this crystal clear in their quick and concise response to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Many years ago, I saw a short film which basically told an imaginary story that at the heart of it, asked this question: “If it were a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” With today’s Readings still echoing in our hearts today, we could ask the same question of ourselves. The answer would have to rest on the amount of time, energy and vigor that we place in following Christ and believing everything He taught and said He would do for us especially on our own last day on earth. Everything depends on this powerful relationship which Jesus would prefer to call a “friendship” because it is truly based on love and forgiveness. So, what’s in a name? Everything.
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“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare
There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ and I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express. Billy Sunday
“Jesus said to Thomas, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” How is Jesus “The Way?” Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend whether it is at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored. (Earl Nightingale) Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and carry Him wherever we go, there is a certain appreciation for life that never leaves us. Once we realize and accept that Jesus is the way I want to follow, every minute of my life is a true gift and others begin to see and experience that as well.
How is Jesus “The Truth?” Stay true to yourself, yet always be open to learn. Work hard and never give up on your dreams even when nobody else believes they can come true but you. (Philip Sweet) People all around us worship many things in this life, anything from money to power and pleasure. When Jesus becomes our Truth, everything He has taught us is maintained in a life of remarkable integrity. This is critical especially in the face of temptation when we must make that daily choice which version of ourselves we choose to be for that moment.
How is Jesus “The Life?” There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved. (George Sand)
When a person accepts Jesus as their universe and pattern of living, love becomes nearly effortless. That is because God is love and those who truly understand the overwhelming love which has been shown to us especially in the death and Resurrection of Jesus His Son, then the only response can be a life of generous giving of self, forgiveness and love. This clearly prepares us for the eternal life in Heaven where there is no more pain, no more guilt, no more tears.
“If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”
“It is I. Do not be afraid.” The Easter Season continues to march on throughout the month of April and its showers bring us treasure beyond measure. Fear has paralyzed nations and armies, cultures and progress for as long as we have lived on this planet and yet it still seems to take hold and grip in places we never expected. But it cannot coexist with a heart that knows and loves and serves the Lord Jesus. Today we are presented with an amazing remedy that is beautiful and ready for implementation whenever we are ready. We could summarize for our uses right here: Service (First Reading), Trust (Responsorial Psalm), and Vision (Gospel).
“The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.” The soul that serves others with a heart of charity doesn’t have time or make time for fear. There is simply too much joy in helping others; recalling all the great things God has done for us strengthens the reasons we have to put all our trust in Him; and by sincerely and endlessly looking for the face of Jesus in every day’s hills and valleys is the vision and wisdom we need to live in pure confidence.
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I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that bring total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. (Frank Herbert)
“So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” On this beautiful Sabbath, ask yourself this question: what would bring me the greatest joy? No doubt there would be as many answers from as many different people there in the entire world. One thing, however, would be in common: the length of that joy. Wouldn’t we opt for a joy that lasts for a longer period of time than just one minute, or an hour or even a day? What if that joy could last forever? We could then say that it is certainly complete. “You changed my mourning into dancing; O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.” Only God can guarantee complete and forever in this life. The Holy Spirit as the primary source of inspiration and wisdom seals and protects this complete joy that will take us into Heaven having won the battle of our lives while alive on this planet. So how do we know that we are in His presence and under His protection?
“Do you love me?” In the Gospel of today we are presented with a most dear and wonderful exchange between the Lord Jesus and Peter after the experience of the first Easter on the planet. Peter had denied Jesus three times so three times Jesus asked him if he truly loved Him. However, because the English language does not do justice to the conversation, each time Jesus asked Peter the question He was actually using a different verb for love. It spanned the meanings of love from “like” to self-giving commitment. Jesus clearly wants to invite all of us into the deep and wonderful relationship of love that will take us through this life and make sense of all that happens to us with the real prospect of living forever in Heaven with Him. This requires fidelity and keeping the commandments. This is no impossible task because we were created for love, a real joy that seeks the best for the other and never looks back. What is complete is that love involves the self-emptying of the one who seeks to love, the faith in the promise that this is the way to peace and the joy that Heaven is waiting for us.
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“Death and love are the two wings that bear the good soul to heaven.” Michelangelo
A very wise man once attempted to comfort a younger protege who seemed to have been the target of several slimy and vicious remarks from a coworker by stating the following: “whatever is ever said to you is never more important than the one who said it.” Now just think about that bit of advice for just a minute and then consider the passages with which we have been gifted today in the Scriptures: “Though princes meet and talk against me, your servant meditates on your statutes. Yes, your decrees are my delight; they are my counselors.” Do we ever truly realize how many words and phrases are spoken to us in the course of any given day? Some are surely good and others not so. We received a glimpse of this in the First Reading in the ugliness hurled at Stephen: “We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” What we can safely conclude from these two Biblical selections that all of us throughout the entire span of human experience have to decide quickly and wisely what we will allow into our ears and hearts and minds.
With that in mind, the Gospel screams for attention to the only voice that we can truly trust one hundred percent of the time and in every situation before us: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’” Let us call to one another and challenge each other to pay even more attention to the words of Jesus uttered in the Scriptures for us especially in the coming week believing that it is not only important to see who is talking but also what He is saying.
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Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Henri Nouwen
“As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and when he said this, he fell asleep.” The blood of the martyrdom/witness of St. Stephen brings a considerable amount of sobriety to the joy of the Easter Season but it is so necessary. The gift of Easter has everything to do with where we hope to end our earthly pilgrimage because of the great gift of Christmas. We want to go to Heaven after a good and solid life of witness to the real joy and meaning of this great time. We want to have enough happiness and peace in our hearts to say at the end of it all, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’” The resurrection of Christ also brings forth the spiritual nourishment we need to make it to Heaven and find our way in this life by imitating the hope that is ours of and for a much better life. He is the Bread of Life that feeds and takes care of all our needs. Thus we could say that in our spiritual Easter basket this year we will find forgiveness, hope, strength and courage to face whatever is there waiting for us ahead.
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The very first Easter taught us this: that life never ends and love never dies. It is the only time of year when it is safe to put all your eggs in one basket. Kate McGahan
“Jesus said to the crowds, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.'” Have you ever been rushing from Point A to Point B without realizing how fast you are going and then, all of a sudden, you catch the aroma of something that almost immediately catapults you to another space and time? Ask anyone around you about their favorite smells and more often than not, in the top five you will discover, not unsurprisingly, that the smell of freshly-baked bread is there. The more interesting item for today is that the aroma of freshly-baked bread has more than just the power to make your mouth water. According to a new study, it can also make you a kinder person. According to the Daily Mail, researchers at the University of Southern Brittany in France found that shoppers were more likely to alert a random passerby that they had dropped a belonging if, at the time, they were also passing a bakery giving off the sweet scent of baking bread. The findings, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, suggest that certain smells can trigger a more positive mood, which leads to a greater degree of kindness and charity to strangers making for a great level of happiness. “For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city.” In a very similar and mysterious way, Jesus has risen from the dead giving us Himself as the bread of life so that we might go through this life with the immense amount of confidence and joy to face no matter what is right before us, especially the challenge to forgive, move on and thrive in the Spirit of God who in fact raised Jesus from the grave.
This power to thrive, forgive and surrender one’s being is supernatural and requires supernatural food to accomplish: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It should be clear by now that none of us will literally make it off this planet alive, that is, we will all come to that door of eternity where we must by definition surrender our spirit and everything else that accompanied it while we spent rented and precious time here. Today we are all called to partake of the most wondrous and miraculous meal known as the Eucharist so that we might truly enter into that mysterious life and move forward in faith toward our destiny which lies in Heaven. In the meantime, there is sufficient power and healthy living right here, right now. It begins with forgiveness and the wonderful smell and presence of bread which brings to life for us today the bread of life.
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There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. Mahatma Gandhi
Edgar Dale was a nineteenth century American educator who developed the Cone of Experience by which he made the following amazing assertions: we remember ten percent of what we read, twenty percent of what we hear, thirty percent of what we see, fifty percent of what we see and hear, seventy percent of what we discuss with others, eighty percent of what we personally experience and a whopping ninety-five percent of what we teach others. There is probably some of this that would ignite debate or conversation to any varying degree of agreement but for our purposes today, let us consider the scene that was presented to us in the First Reading today: “’Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me?’” When it comes to our own approach and use and love of the Scriptures, it seems that our reading or listening to the beautiful Word of God is deeply enriched and expanded only when we share the wealth that we have discovered with others who also want to know Christ. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
Today, during this great Easter Season, we need to reflect on what difference it makes in our lives that we believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, defeated all the powers of darkness and hatred in this world and saved us a place in heaven. Something must be different in the way we approach life and one of the more profound ways that is accomplished is how we share our faith. Take a chance today: share with someone who Jesus is for you and what great things He has done for you. Then let’s see how much you remember.
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If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave but it won’t stay there. Clarence W. Hall
“’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'” There is a very telling and interesting detail in our Scriptural Readings today. It concerns the very nature of the question that Jesus asks Saul, later the great St. Paul, as to his previously recklessness and heartless persecution of the early Christian Church. Keep in mind that he has been going around rounding up all those following the “New Way” of the Lord and imprisoning most of them for their beliefs. But notice what Jesus asks him: “why are you persecuting me?” What inescapable conclusion can we draw from this telling detail? Jesus is equating the Church with his very person, His own body. His new creation of the Church has everything to do, then, with a deep and lasting, wonderfully engaging personal relationship with Himself and what a joy it is to discover that today!
“Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.” The effect of this real joy is what we do with the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. We share! This can and does bring life to others in a very broken world in which we live. “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” If we came across someone in our homes or places of schooling or work literally in obvious distress, our first reaction would be to do something positive and proactive. How much more does that matter when we know that someone needs to hear of the great and marvelous love our God has for us? This is precisely how we can help Jesus and the community of believers. Be a friend to someone in need. It is just too easy to dismiss people who are not like us. Easter means a new life for all. Who will you help today?
A true friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg, even if you’re cracked.
“The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.” Are you at peace today? Why or why not? These questions are sincerely important because of who we are: Christians, people who believe in and follow the Lord Jesus, risen from the tomb. People in our lives who do not have any faith or who are wondering why we have ours, will be certainly looking to us to see how we handle every kind of life situation. What they may be searching keenly in us is a profound sense of gratitude: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” This thankful-for-living attitude can make all the difference in the world, not only in the way we live our daily lives with family and friends, but also the way we subtly impact the lives of all those around us who are also searching for meaning in their own lives.
“It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” This openly optimistic and encouraging attitude has more to do with the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives than it does with just simple cognitive shifts in our personality. It has everything to do with believing that Jesus accomplished everything He said and promised He would do. We have been so immeasurably blessed that the only response for us today is to be a blessing for others. Loved people love people and freed people lead others to freedom.
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The Easter eggs symbolizes our ability to break out of the hardened, protective shell we’ve surrounded ourselves with that limits our thoughts and beliefs. As we break open our hearts and minds we discover a transformation to new, life enhancing thoughts and beliefs. Siobhan Shaw
“I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” There was a remarkable encounter with a visiting and potential donor to one of the many outreach clinics in the poorest part of Calcutta, India where the Sisters of Charity and Mother Teresa served the poor and dying. This visitor saw a young nun tendering washing a gaping wound of a man who was clearly dying of malnutrition and infection. Her response to the young religious sister was surprising: “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” The nun’s response was equally surprising: “Neither would I, Ma’am. Neither would I.” “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Thank God we have Jesus, our great shepherd!
The great lesson for all of us today is simple: God loves us and that is the only reason for His divine sacrifice for our eternal happiness. “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” There is no money possibly gathered in all the lifetimes and eons of history on this planet that could even come close to what the Father has done for us in giving us His only begotten Son, Jesus for our salvation. In the light of all this, what is our response to others? Love often takes the form of forgiveness and patience even when it does not appear to be merited or proper. Yet, if we truly wish to honor what has been done for us by the death and resurrection of Christ, then perhaps we could learn much from the Great Shepherd’s tale: God loves me more in a single moment than anyone could in a lifetime.
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Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. Martin Luther King, Jr.
George Mallory was the famed mountain climber who may have been the first person ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. In the early 1920s, he led a number of attempts to scale the mountain, eventually being killed in the third attempt in 1924. Before that last and fatal attempt he had said “I can’t see myself coming down defeated.” Mallory was an extraordinary climber, and nothing would force him to give up. His body was found in 1999, well preserved by the snow and ice, 27,000 feet up the mountain, just 2000 feet from the peak. He never gave up nor looked for the easy way to the top. In that same year, a banquet was held for the team that accompanied George Mallory. A huge picture of Mt. Everest stood behind the banquet table. It is said that the leader of the group stood to be applauded, and with tears streaming down his face, turned and looked at the picture: “I speak to you, Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living and those yet unborn. Mt Everest, you defeated us once; you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger but we can.” In 1953 two climbers, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzig Norgay, reached the top. “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Today, Jesus tells us to enter through the narrow gate. This gate path could mean following the Lord Jesus when it is convenient or inconvenient. It could mean doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Entering through the narrow gate means following Christ, not just sometimes or part way, but completely. It means we persevere and sacrifice and surrender even how we think things should unfold even in the face of disappointments and sadness. “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” God never said that the climb up the mountain of life would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worth everything.Leave a comment
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Here we have the most awesome and life-changing promise that the Lord offers to us to ensure that we know that He is absolutely and eternally serious about what he intends to provide for us for all time: He promises to make the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves intensely. Do you personally know anyone who would die for you? If you did, would they be able to assure your entrance into heaven? Only Jesus can do both.
“Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” Today is also the Feast of St. Matthias who in effect replaced the fallen traitor Judas after the horrible sequence of events after the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. Again, we have an example of the love Christ has for His Church by continually stocking and staffing good and solid leaders to shepherd and protect the flock. God never leaves us orphans because we definitely live in the time of Christ until we live with Him forever in heaven.
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If I am a friend of Jesus, I must deliberately and carefully lay down my life for Him. It is a difficult thing to do, and thank God that it is. Salvation is easy for us, because it cost God so much. And Jesus says to us, “…I have called you friends….” Remain faithful to your Friend, and remember that His honor is at stake in your bodily life. Oswald Chambers
“I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” This clear and awesome self-description from Jesus in the Gospel today speaks more than just volumes for us to ponder. It calls out throughout the centuries for a deep and true response to the reality of whom we follow and whom we love. How is He the light? We immediately realize that this question would automatically posture and position our conversation that could easily drift into philosophy or history or even politics. Let us recall the words of Christ who makes it crystal clear: “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”
Think of all the conversations you had yesterday and then think of all the ones you are about to have. How many of them will be about important, eternal matters? Some people feel very uncomfortable and awkward talking about their faith and their relationship with Jesus Christ. However, everything that is true will speak for itself and we are just its servants. Think about what St. Augustine so eloquently wrote and go into your world armed with what you know is good, sound and holy: “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”Leave a comment
Imagine the disappointment of those over two thousand years ago who were expecting their own created version of the Messiah who would wield such political and military power that anyone associated with him and be called his friend would some how share in that tremendous and overwhelmingly amassed power. It is little wonder why such as these rejected Jesus Christ flat out because, astoundingly, he promoted service as a basis for greatness. He even washed feet: “When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master.'”
William Shakespeare once wrote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” and although there is much truth in that statement, there perhaps is more that resonates with reality to say that unrealistic expectation is actually the blueprint for disaster. Those who rejected Jesus when He first came were steeped in their own mistaken ideas about who God promised and how he would save them from their sins. This still happens today as Jesus comes to us every single day of our lives which calls upon us to set aside any biases or unrealistic expectations and accept the Lord Jesus just as He says He is for the world: “Jesus Christ, you are the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, you have loved us and freed us from our sins by your Blood.” Love Jesus today with all your heart and then allow that remarkable decision to permeate and affect everything you do and say from now on. Sometimes the human heart needs more time to accept what the mind already knows.
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Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. C. S. Lewis
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” There cannot possibly be a whole lot of folks who have never had to confront an angry, ranting person standing right in front of them and then immediately placed in a most awkward and seemingly no-win situation. Although it is readily instinctual, we want to say the rationally inspired words, “calm down,” that in fact may not be the best response. When you think about it, telling someone to calm down seldom works. What does? Remembering that we are Easter people and Jesus lives within us, we could ponder to breathe, invite the other to talk, listen proactively, and ask them if they are ready to move forward. This is at least one way that we can place our faith in action and help others and ourselves.
“These are now his witnesses before the people.” If we do this in the name of Jesus, if we truly believe in the miracles that abound because our faith in the resurrection, we become witnesses before others of the power and the love that Christ has for each and every one of us. In this way, we are able to not only receive the help and graces we need in this life but we can also share them with others, starting with our own family members.
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The great gift of Easter is hope. Basil Hume
“So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” The famous phrase we encounter in the Gospel today “shake the dust off your feet” appears only four times in the New Testament. Shaking the dust off one’s feet conveys the same idea as our modern phrase “I wash my hands of it.” Shaking the dust basically means that one has done all that can be done in a situation and therefore carries no further responsibility for it. Jesus told His disciples that they were to preach the Gospel to everyone and in those circumstances where they were received with joy, they should remain. However, where their message was rejected, they had no further responsibility. They were free to walk away with a clear conscience, knowing they had done all they could do. Shaking the dust off their feet was, in effect, saying that those who rejected God’s truth would not be allowed to keep the Good News from anyone else. “And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” And where the message was received, great and marvelous things always happened. This was and still is the remarkably overjoyed message of promise that whatever we ask for our needs here on earth in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can and should expect miracles.
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Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. C.S. Lewis
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Anything worth having will always comes at a cost. That is true with anything in life and even more pronounced in our spiritual life. Just think of it for a while. The resurrection of Jesus allowed all of us another chance to go to heaven and live for ever in glory. The cost? The crucifixion and the very bloody death of Christ. This is the share we will have in the hardships of Jesus so that we may in fact experience and glory in the gifts and fruits of new life won by Christ. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Several years ago, shortly before his death, Billy Graham pointed out that God had proved His love on the cross for us and as He died he was actually saying to the world, “I love you.” “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” In turn, our response to this great and eternal gift of new life is to love each other beginning with those we deem as most difficult to love. This always involves sacrifice and sacrifice absolutely needs love to survive and bear fruit that will last.
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Love always involves responsibility, and love always involves sacrifice. And we do not really love Christ unless we are prepared to face His task and to take up His Cross. William Barclay
“He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him, saw that he had the faith to be healed, and called out in a loud voice, ‘Stand up straight on your feet.’” As we begin to near the end of the Easter Season and open our hearts to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are once again reminded of the power of our faith and the effect it can and should have on our lives as we live in this world which is often hostile to the message of the Gospel and the person of Christ. No doubt there are many who will not allow the message of new life and resurrection permeate their lives and all their dealings with each other. That is because they have either chosen to remain unaffected by the miracle of life or they just are too comfortable leading a mediocre life. The issue here is simple: be predisposed to receive healing and ready to see and experience miracles in this life so that when they appear, and they will most assuredly, you won’t miss them.
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” The best way to achieve this new disposition is to love God with all one’s might, others as much as we can stand, and then ourselves. This prepares us for the glorious promises of Easter and the risen Lord Jesus. When you have the faith to be healed then there is only one thing left to do: stand up straight.
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A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“And when they arrived, they called the Church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Then they spent no little time with the disciples.” At that wonderful moment in life when everything is so clear and lucid, you just do not want time to end. We might say that in those special episodes around us, time was relative. “Time is relative” means the rate of change of time is not same for every frame of reference. Two people sitting in two other frames of reference can measure different rate of time, i.e. one’s clocks can tick faster than others or vice-versa. When the grace of God surrounds you, time stands still and everything comes into such clear focus that we just do not ever want to leave that space. But unfortunately, reality knocks relentlessly and there we go back to the grime and gristle of it all. The joy that literally overwhelmed the disciples in our First Reading understood that very well. They knew and quickly realized that great things take great sacrifices but yield even greater rewards: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” They couldn’t spend enough time listening to all the wonders that God had done for those who never lost trust or faith in Him.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” In order to find these deep wonderful moments of clarity, we must slow down. If we think that somehow we are going to finish everything we think we need to accomplish, we will definitely wear ourselves down. This leaves little time to survey and realize how God our God is to us. Try slowing today. You’ll be so glad you did.
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Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. Saint Francis de Sales
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 the Easter Season, we are witnesses through the Scriptures of the first fruits 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. “They were sent on their journey by the Church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brethren.” God is like the supreme gardener who has placed all of creation in place and in order and brings all the blossom in an all-powerful and all-loving gentle manner. This very truth inspired the Psalmist to invite to sing with him today and forever: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
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: “Remain in me, as I remain in you, says the Lord; whoever remains in me will bear much fruit.” Clearly the Scriptures today proclaim the deep and life-giving connection with 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 in the Gospel today: “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? Who, then?
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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 have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” On this beautiful Thursday, ask yourself this question: what would bring me the greatest joy? No doubt there would be as many answers from as many different people as there are in the entire world. One thing, however, would be in common: the length of that joy. Wouldn’t we opt for a joy that lasts for a longer period of time than just one minute, or an hour or even a day? What if that joy could last forever? We could then say that it is certainly complete. ” My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.” Only God can guarantee complete and forever in this life. The Holy Spirit as the primary source of inspiration and wisdom seals and protects this complete joy that will take us into heaven having won the battle of our lives while alive on this planet. So how do we know that we are in His presence and under His protection?
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” Jesus clearly wants to invite all of us into the deep and wonderful relationship love that will take us through this life and make sense of all that happens to us with the real prospect of living forever in heaven with Him. This does require fidelity and keeping the commandments. This is no impossible task because we were created for love, a real joy that seeks the best for the other and never looks back. What is complete is that love involves the self-emptying of the one who seeks to love, the faith in the promise that this is the way to peace and the joy that heaven is waiting for us.
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They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Tom Bodett