“Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” When people ask us what humility truly is, we could start with the base meaning of the word which comes from the word for dirt, earth, or ground. All these words indicate someone who is grounded or as we say, “down to earth.” While Jesus notices all those people in the Gospel who are scrambling for the places of honor, one has to wonder if they are practicing humility. Probably not.
Now there have been literally hundreds of opinions and commentaries written that attempt to unlock the mystery and meaning of these beautiful passages. Some try to make comments about social eating practices and pseudo-religious self-righteousness of the people of that time, others will comment on the aspects of humility and generosity, while still others make direct application to feeding the poor and hungry and doing things for people who could never repay you. Trust me, each of these angles certainly have great merit. A humble person does not have to wear a mask or put on a facade in order to look good to others who do not know who he really is. A giving person is clearly happier than a stingy one. Hypocrisy is a real disease.
However, there is evidence of deeper meaning present which is suggested by the context of the passages, namely, the banquet. In the Scriptures, there are many mentions of meals and celebrations which clearly point to the heavenly banquet after we finish this life. Thus, spiritual disease down here translates to a quarantine for the eternal celebration; neglecting the poor and starving now means we become spiritually impoverished and famished for heaven later, and collecting rewards and accolades from the audiences of this world powerfully suggests there’ll be no applause, added benefit or honor in the next world that never ends.
This particular approach to Chapter 14 also sheds light on the Gospel of today, hidden, perhaps, in the two different directions that a person is directed after entering the banquet hall and before the meal is served: “My friend, move up to a higher position…..you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.” Higher or lower. Up or Down. Heaven or Hell. Therefore, when Jesus comments on all the folks who are scrambling to get to the really good seats, it is very likely that the inescapable lesson not to be missed is about presumption. Just because in our mind, based on all the limited information and knowledge at our earthly disposal, we assume that we are definitely going to heaven or that awful neighbor of ours is certainly not, that might not be the case.
Thank God for Mercy! The Psalm echoes our gratitude: “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” Thank you, Jesus! He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of His great mercy.Leave a comment
“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” One of the most deep and mystifying elements of all the Scriptures that reveals the most fundamental face of God is that not only does God love us but He also wants intimately to be with us especially while we are suffering. This involves all kinds of hurt and burdensome worry and heaviness, especially grief when we mourn the loss of anything even our peace of mind.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” This beautiful facet of our faith is completely substantiated by the double-reference of this astounding statement. Double because it is a quote in Luke’s Gospel from the Prophet Isaiah in the Old and totally fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. When faced with any of life’s most difficult moments, especially that of losing someone so dear and so loving, the Spirit of the Lord rests upon us through the grace of our faith and our acceptance of God’s will for our lives. We call this good grief because it reveals the very nature of God’s love for us if we just open the deepest recesses of our hearts and allow Him to hold us and dry away our tears.
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The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
“Jesus rebuked him and said, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm.” 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: “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” 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 & 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 2000 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: “For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.”
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.Leave a comment
Each one of us woke up this morning and began this day with literally a million different possibilities as to how our lives would unravel as each minute ticked away. For some, it was a bright and glorious beginning, while for others, problems made their way onto our patch almost immediately. One thing is for certain, however, and that is we all have the same Shepherd: Jesus. We are in fact His own loved ones: “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.” Every single moment of every single day, we belong to Him and He is always watching over us. That’s the kind of love He has for us which is why we can echo the words of the Psalmist today in the very depths of our hearts: “I will thank you always for what you have done proclaim the goodness of your name before your faithful ones.”
In the Gospel today, Jesus’ healing of the fever-ravishing Simon’s mother-in-law and his confrontation with the demons tells us all right here and right now that He has the power and the love to do the same for each one of us wherever we are, in whatever station of life. These particular Scriptures call out to do a number of things today: 1) acknowledge He is present to you, 2) lift and present to Him all the matters and people you have to confront today, especially sickness, 3) believe both in His power and love, and 4) wait patiently. Perhaps we could say today that we have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we must confront sickness and evil on daily basis with numbing regularity. The good news is that we are not alone in these confrontations. We carry with us the one who has defeated both now and forever.
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Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible. St. Francis of Assisi
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” In both the Old and New Testaments, the references to fish and fishing are many and significant. The very fact that the majority of Apostles whom Jesus called to found and build the Church were fishermen is not a causal reference. There are profound reasons that makes this quite significant for our own understanding of the Bible and of the Church itself. This also has implications concerning our own individual call to be good and faithful followers of Christ in this world. Let’s explore a few of them:
1. Fishing takes patience.
Good things, like waiting for the fish to bite, take time and this is certainly the case with our spiritual lives. Overcoming harmful habits and unhealthy attitudes means that we be patient with ourselves first before moving to evangelize our family and friends.
2. Fishing requires humility.
The proverbial description of “the one that got away” and the exaggerated size of the alleged near-catch humorously illustrates the need for humility out on the water and for every Christian out in the world. For the follower of Jesus, there are no more bad days, but certainly some days are better than others.
3. Fishing involves a team of people.
Keep in mind the kind of fishing that is referenced in the Scriptures. It is not the sole figure on the lake with one rod waiting patiently for the long-awaited prize for supper. No, rather the kind of fishing in both the Old and New Testaments involved using nets, large nets, that required a team of people to bring in the haul. This is clearly good when we think that it takes a community gathered of one mind to effectively bring the Gospel to a displaced and broken world.
4. Fishing feeds people.
In early Christian churches, the Greek word for fish (ichthus) came to be interpreted as a sort of code word for the name of Jesus. You see, when you take the first letter of each of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” they spell “ichthus.” Although we cannot be sure when this identification first began or where it was first introduced, the fish has certainly become a standard Christian symbol. Perfect. We fish for Jesus, we fish with Him, and we bring Jesus to a hungering and starving people, all the while we become closer and closer. “’Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
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Jesus, like any good fisherman, first catches the fish then cleans them. Mark Potter
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson went on a camping trip. After sharing a good meal and a bottle of fine French wine, they retire to their tent for the night. At about 3 AM, Holmes nudges Watson and asks, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?” Watson says, “I see millions of Stars.”
Holmes asks, “And, what does that tell you?” Watson replies, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, it tells me that it’s about 3 AM. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes retorts, “Someone stole our tent.”
“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.” Perhaps the most obvious hurdles Christians face in following the Lord are the many distractions that soon become almost expected and then ignored. They come in all shapes and sizes from the most usual places to the most surprising places. The issue here is how to spot the obvious signs and wonders which Jesus places right in front of our eyes. The obvious instructions concerning sewing patches or storing wine are funny, in a way, but they point to something quite telling. If we truly want to be happy and find our way to Heaven, we know we can call out to Jesus and He will hear us but when He answers will He find the same conditions in our souls that led us to fall and lose faith? There must be external change to match the internal desire for transformation.
So as we move through this First Friday of the month, look around: The blessings, the crosses, the tears and laughter and the ability to just breathe. What do you see? Isn’t it obvious?
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” The Gospel of today points us to a condition of spiritual infection that is all around us. The pettiness and the self-inflated importance of the Pharisees remind us of those who have and exercise authority over us but under the lure and seduction of power on every scale which is immense depending on the degree of the power one possesses. The abuse of authority has inflicted great harm upon individuals and societies and has harmed the possibility of peace and forgiveness in our world. Jesus cuts through the very heart of the problem in the Gospel today which should ring loudly in every one of us no matter what state of life we occupy. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, of our days and nights and of all authority that ever existed over human beings.
“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life.” One of the basic and forgone conclusions we can draw from all of this is really quite simple: Everyone has a God. There is a single place at the center of the human heart and there is only one entity that can dwell there. If it is not the God who has been revealed to us by his Son, Jesus, then something or someone else is there in that space. It can be power, fame, money, or any other hidden vestige of selfishness, but it is certainly not the one true God whom we adore and love. No, to find complete happiness in this life that will last, even unto forever, we must fall in love with God.
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To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement. St. Augustine
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was the penultimate metaphor of people trying to reach heaven without the assistance of God. That is precisely why they were thrown into a huge and overwhelming state of confusion where no one could understand each other. That scene prepared us for Pentecost and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which endow with the potential to understand everyone in their spheres of life because of the presence of love in their lives. Thus the reference in the Gospel is made to the tower that someone starts to build but cannot finish.
“Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?” 10K troops vs. 20K troops? Is this a battle hard to call? The answer is absolutely “no,” but this passage is not about military exercises. It is about the impending confrontation that each of us has with death. Will we be ready? It is time for “peace terms.” Thus, the Gospel of today gives to all of us the specifics of those terms. Before the final call, you and I must be sufficiently detached from this world but at the same time attached to living in the world walking in the light of truth. How is that done? “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” Simply we are called to love in the power of the Holy Spirit which is freely given to those who love in the name of Jesus the Lord.
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If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive. St. Teresa of Calcutta
“On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.” In the Gospel today, we witnessed yet another pathetic example of hypocrisy taken to its unusual conclusion. The scribes and Pharisees would rather a man suffer with a horribly deformed hand than to be cured on the Sabbath. This is because they prefer to maintain a deformed view of reality and others suffer who do not fit into their constructs and mindsets. You see, the Sabbath is much more than law, but truly a gift of God’s care for all of us. He rested on the seventh day not out of fatigue, but to show how a fruitful life should be lived, with enough time for re-creation and renewal. Our redemption from sin and death are truly the work of God and not us. He has literally “done all the work.” Now, for this glorious break, He wants us to enjoy!
You and I unfortunately tend to rush through our busy week, maybe offering God a fleeting wave or a passing prayer. Sunday, the Sabbath, however, calls us to true and thought-out decision with real intention. We are simply to stop from all the other things we had to do or must do or have to do, and spend quality time with Him and focus attention on Him. When we decide to obey, that is, listen to the Fourth Commandment, we become aware of the astounding and comforting truth that we really belong to God. It is not the Sabbath that we worship but the one who has initiated the Sabbath as we swim in a sort of a memorial in time, a useful tool to help us focus our attention on our awesome destiny. It has the great chance of avoiding spiritual withering within us and awaken the great promise of our Faith: “It is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”
On Sundays, try to remember this Reflection. Consider taking a different approach to the Sabbath and let God be at peace with you and for you. Cut out any unnecessary activity and focus on your hope of heaven. Then perhaps we may truly appreciate the blessing of St. John for us as cited from his Gospel in the Alleluia Verse of today: “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
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I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold, my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way. St. Jerome
“We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit.” Our very interesting complicated and tender-loving human race has had quite a historic-involved relationship with the living God since we first appeared on this planet. Not many would argue with that assessment. What is likely unarguable is the way we seem to go back and forth with God that can be described in terms of “hit and miss.” Things get really great for a stretch then people get a little too complacent and even feel entitled then something bad happens, then there’s suffering, forgiveness, redemption, and the cycle seems to begin all over again. After all that the Lord had accomplished for the chosen people, they still found it in their heart to complain and grumble, which literally set them back forty years. “Forty days you spent in scouting the land; forty years shall you suffer for your crimes: one year for each day.”
Now fast forward to the scene in the Gospel today and discover the fruit of deep humility rooted in an undying and mystical faith. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” We are looking seriously at two different attitudes when dealing with our awesome God. One was petty and selfish and cost the people a lifelong purge in the desert. The other brought healing and a changed life that continued to aim at eternity. Today, you and I can make a similar choice of how we are going to approach the events, large and small, of this day. What will we do?
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Never waste a second of your life complaining. Complaining doesn’t solve problems, it attracts them. The more you complain, the more problems you’ll have. And the more you infect other people with your problems. Don’t be an infection. Be a cure. Isaiah Hankel
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Today is a difficult one for some, problematic for others, and still a puzzle for many. What happened? Why did it happen? Is it going to happen again? You see, for all of the above segments of our society, there must be a common, stable and universal answer. And there is. God’s patience mercifully calls forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. “Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.” Saint Bernard goes on to ask, “But what can I count on? My own merits? No, My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important for today. Our goal must be the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love. We must seek mercy in the very heart of our understanding of who God is for the whole world. Let us Pray:
God, we come to you today in remembrance of the lives lost to unspeakable violence, especially those on September 11th and in its aftermath. All of us were touched by this day – from the loss of loved ones to changes in the national mood. We remember our anger and fear, gritty like sand in our teeth – anger at lives lost, at words and actions of retaliation, at excuses to oppress people in our country and around the world, fear over what might happen, over losing our own lives. We remember our sorrow, salty water flowing from our eyes, grief at loss, at the deep pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers. But we also pray that this salty water will become seed for a better tomorrow. Like these seeds, we have hope that your kingdom of peace and justice will take root and flourish in our world. And we remember the fabric of life of which we are all a part – from workers at the Pentagon to the undocumented workers at the top of the World Trade Towers to people in Afghanistan who had never heard of New York City.
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May we learn to sew together this fabric, with unbreakable threads so that we may cling together in solidarity and such violence may never be repeated. (Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet)
“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” 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 life, it was found that 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 than that which was uttered by G. K. Chesterton when he wrote, “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: “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body. And be thankful.”
“Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you.” When you get right down to the heart of the mater, the one true sign that someone has not only understood why Jesus came but also how we must embody the entire spirit of the Gospel is the willingness and the ability to forgive: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Jesus Christ came to us to save us from the darkness and empty tragedy of sinfulness which by design and definition includes the refusal to forgive. How can anyone seriously hope to enter into heaven with even the slightest of resentment? This is precisely why Jesus begged us to forgive as often and as necessary as possible. It was not for the sake of those who hurt but for our own sake. We must arrive fully alive in heaven. Nothing else will do.
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Our lack of forgiveness makes us hate, and our lack of compassion makes us hard-hearted. Pride in our hearts makes us resentful and keeps our memory in a constant whirlwind of passion and self-pity. Mother Angelica
Have you ever wondered why so many (maybe yourself included) consider Friday the thirteenth such an ominous and almost terrifying event? As you might imagine, the association with numbers and symbolic days have long been a part of lore and legend of our human race. It is likely that there would be a larger base of agreement that since it was on a Friday that Jesus was crucified, the day itself has been associated with “general ill omen.” In the Middle Ages, for instance, weddings were not held on Fridays and it was usually avoided as a day someone would set out on a long trip or journey. It was also the day in medieval times when executions took place known as “hangman’s day.” As for the “unlucky” or ill-fortunate number thirteen, since Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus was the last and thirteenth guest, the scary number almost seemed to ask for trouble.
“I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord.” However, the greater issue must not be ignored or forgotten. How can any day be unlucky? What kind of power or force are we blindly following to make a day, an hour or even a single minute blessed or cursed? “I bless the LORD who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.” Superstition in every form is a useless use of time and waste of energy. Jesus made a very poignant observation that could help our understanding of this. “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” What makes today blessed, fortunate, and lucky (if you will) has nothing to do with some outside uncontrollable force over which we have no power, but on one simple fact: Jesus died for us sinners and now we have a shot at eternal life.
Today is hardly an unlucky day. We have all been blessed by the complete and selfless act of self sacrifice that Jesus accomplished on the cross. By His blood we have been washed and made clean and we can and should avail ourselves of all the promised blessings every single day we are alive. Shallow people believe in luck; strong people believe in cause and effect; blessed, healthy and happy people believe in Jesus.
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Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. St. John Paul II
What is the mystery of suffering? Maybe we should begin with the penalty for complaining. It did not go well for the people in the First Reading: “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.” The problem was simple: they forgot how good God had been to them and just focused on the things in the present moment without giving thanks to the one who always took care of them. Thus, the Psalmist made it clear to them and us what we must all do: “Do not forget the works of the Lord!”
None of us like to suffer. We avoid pain and discomfort. Our whole society and culture is seemingly built around the basic premise that we must avoid all pain. The problem, however, is simple and tragic. No one can avoid suffering. No one can escape death. The simple message of today is that life is not a question about whether or not you are going to suffer, it is a question of how. We who believe in Jesus know the answer to that question. We suffer with Him so that we can rise with Him. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Again, this awakens the thoughts we raised yesterday. Which path will I take today? Whose promise will I place my entire trust?
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When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly. St. Sebastian Valfre
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” It would be more than just a simple sadness if we came to the end of our life 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 are deep and lasting wounds or infractions. 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 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 the Day of the Lord, when He comes to us face-to-face, 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 is always poised to forgive and love. This wondrous love is enough to bring us to forgive everyone who has every caused us pain. The Psalm gives us the words for the prayer that will lead us to lasting joy: “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
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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
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” Here, halfway through the month, we are greeted and challenged by this very familiar phrase from the Scriptures which are recalled during the Sacrifice of the Mass right before the Body and Blood of Christ are to be received. The term, “under my roof” refers primarily to the authority that one is called to acknowledge and respect when living or even visiting someone else’s home or abode. At the core of all courtesies known to us is the deference and dignity we show to those whose homes we enter, that is, while we are “under their roof.” What is at issue for us today is that of authority or in other words, the power to achieve something great.
“And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.’ And at that very hour his servant was healed.” We have in fact witnessed something great happen as the Gospel continues: a miracle! Perhaps we could say that the centurion told Jesus that He did not have to come under his own roof but rather, the centurion had to submit and believe and trust by living in the Kingdom, virtually, under God’s roof. When each of us lives our life so completely in trust in the wonderful grace that God provides, with the ultimate assurance that all is well and all will be well, we, too will have our own miracle, right under our roof.
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God will always give us more than we deserve. St. Padre Pio
“Do not weep.” Today, the Scriptures give us, what may appear, two very different topics and issues to examine and apply to our spiritual lives. However, after some considerable time resting with each of them, one from the Letter of Timothy and the Gospel from St. Luke, there is in fact a very deep and moving connection. Let’s begin.
The first selection is really all about the qualifications for service. What it takes to be a good bishop and a good deacon are at the center of the instruction and in this piece of advice we can spot at least one important similarity. To be effective and integral in ministry, the very hand of Christ to all, there must be two areas of life that are solid and sincere for the would-be bishop or deacon and (by means of deduction) all who would rise to authority in the Church. Their own family life and their world view, that is, the understanding of human nature and how Jesus seeks even today to redeem it. Why the need for this? Consider these three possible inerrant and unhealthy desires for service:
1. There is the desire for prestige. When anyone works for God, prestige will be the last thing that should enter the equation. A servant in the Church does not want the approval of everyone, just God.
2. There is the desire for position: There are those who serve within the Church who really are not thinking of those they serve, but only themselves. This is selfish.
3. There is the desire for importance: Anyone entering ministerial service and expects constant thanks and recognition has clearly lost the mark. If anyone gives only to gain something out of the giving for themselves has unfortunately undone anything good that was attempted, especially comforting the afflicted.
This is fundamentally crucial because the world that desperately seeks the face of Jesus must address and manage the relationship between love and fear. Perhaps our point of departure could be the investigation of their opposites. Many believe that the opposite of love is hate but I think there would be an overwhelming gush of contrary opinions about that analysis especially from those who have lived more than a handful of years. The opposite of love is really apathy. Apathy has been described in several places as the lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. What about the opposite of fear? Again, in some places, that answer has been revealed as assurance and/or confidence.
What about the opposite of fear? A person who is unafraid has assurance that there is no real basis for fear. We could call that confidence or true acceptance of how things are. That does not mean that we do not experience the emotion of fear, but rather we confront it with assurance no matter how we feel. The great General Patton said: “All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty.”
Let’s hold on to those thoughts as we move to reflect on the meaning of the Gospel today: “Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Anyone who wishes to follow the Lord, serve His Church, comfort the mourning and suffering, must have their heart in the right place. Otherwise, the world will just keep on suffering and even worse, fall pathetic prey to the wolves of the world.
You and I face storms every single day. Sometimes they take the form of horrible traffic jams, excruciating headaches, disappointments at work and in our relationships, even “life or death, “do or die” situations. It’s dark and terrifying. So are we afraid and why? If the opposite of fear has to do with having God “in us,” then perhaps the remedy for you and me not only has to do with seeing and experiencing Jesus walking on the stormy water towards us but also getting up, shaking off the emotional baggage and walking towards Him as well. This is why Jesus came and called and keeps calling gallant and selfless people to serve the Gospel and wipe the tears from our own faces and lives.
Perhaps He is calling you.
“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.” Unfortunately, there are many around us who hear the refrains of hope and salvation that you and I hear but continue to go forward blindly. We must pray for each other constantly until that day that we all see clearly what Christianity and following Jesus really means and what greatness in Heaven and eternal life is just waiting for us. Today, you and I must be that voice, that speaker to announce the Good News: Jesus Christ is Lord!
“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life, you have the words of everlasting life.” Life has a lot to do with listening. Think of all the different sounds we hear every single day. We listen for important announcements and information that we deem pertinent to us. We also listen for the voices of those whom we love. So does God. What we hear during this great adventure following the Lord is the call to get real with our lives and with each other. There are many other voices shouting out at us all year long. Only one voice matters: “He has made known to his people the power of his works, giving them the inheritance of the nations.”
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Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia
“Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” St. Paul makes it very clear most emphatically in his Letter to Timothy that humanity is lost without the Gospel. And yet, he warns all of us Christians that we cannot hide behind precepts and regulations and mount some kind of superior plane or landing from which to judge people and forget that we, that is, all of humanity, are in the same boat. Clearly we have no right to judge other people just because they do not sin like we do. St. Paul explains that the final judgment will be a review of performance, not of privilege. From this perspective, everyone stands on an equal footing with each other and thus we cannot realistically condemn others without condemning ourselves.
“But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” St. Luke continues and completes this thought for us by making sure that the Pharisees know that mere possession of laws is no evidence of virtue. Mark Twain once responded to a man who was going to the Holy Land to see where the Ten Commandments were given with, “Why don’t you just stay home and live them?” Good point, Mr. Clemens.
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” “The worse prison,” St. John Paul wrote, “would be a closed heart,” and this is precisely why you and I must know the difference between judging and admonishing. Arrogant judgment condemns because it is motivated by pride; admonishing the sinner liberates because it is motivated by love. Each produces very different results.
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If you judge people, you have no time to love them. St. Teresa of Calcutta
“Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes.” What an interesting phrase we have been served today. What is a morbid disposition? You may or may not be surprised as to the frequency that we encounter such an attitude, perhaps even on a daily basis. Let us start with the phrase itself: morbid describes anything pathological and thereby characterized by or appealing to an abnormal and unhealthy interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects, especially death and disease. Imagine having to deal with people with this frame of mind on a daily basis. The obvious conclusion would have to include that the more we encounter such attitudes the more we imitate them and that is precisely what the Scriptures are asking us to do in our walk with God: avoid evil and follow the light of Christ. “Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.”
More than a handful of years ago, I was speaking with an acquaintance of mine, whose life was clearly, diametrically opposed to my own. He told me, “The difference between my life and yours is that you could compare my life to a beautiful ship anchored in the harbor, with the sails blowing gently in the wind, a gallant sight to see for all to visit and watch. My boat, safe and magnificent in a calm sea!” “I agree totally with your assessment,” I added. “There is just one problem.” “That’s not what ships are made for.” “Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
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It doesn’t really matter how much of the rules or the dogma we accepted and lived by if we’re not really living by the fundamental creed of the Catholic Church, which is service to others and finding God in ourselves and then seeing God in everyone – including our enemies. Martin Sheen
“I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” How can we say that someone who is a prisoner is actually in a good place? This would have to be determined by a number of factors such as the prison itself, the prisoner and of course, the jailer. On this beautiful Friday, we have encountered such a mission of understanding and belief that will hopefully expand our notions of faith and to the awesome extent that Jesus loves us “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience.” The word, “prison” has been defined in some circles as a state of confinement while awaiting trial. In many ways, we could stretch that meaning just a bit and see how life itself can be a sort of prison because we are confined in space and time awaiting the final judgment of all that we have said and done while here on this earth. Thus, while we are “confined” we have been given instructions while we are here. We are to be humble and gentle and as much can be grasped, patient with as many as possible “…bearing with one another through love.” If we see everyone in our life as fellow-prisoners, then we could find the strength and the power to love because we are all awaiting the same trial. That in and of itself will bring us to unity and peace “…striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
“Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” This particular phrase from the Gospel describes and determines the attitude of the “jailer” in our little analogy of this Reflection. God has placed us here on earth “in confinement” and Jesus will come one day to lead us out of this existence to another which is complete and eternal freedom. In the meantime, then, we are to concentrate on living, acting with and living in mercy. Showing mercy to each other is indeed a pledge and promise that mercy will be shown to us.
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Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see; that mercy I to others show, that mercy show to me. Alexander Pope (from The Universal Prayer)
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” Conflict is certainly a part of life, but an excessive amount is never good for the soul. This is exactly why Jesus warns us and tries to prevent any of us from falling into divided loyalties. The pull and lure of this world with all its empty promises can create a severe split in our lives that spells certain trouble not to mention a chaotic and frenetic lifestyle trying to please everyone, living a two-faced lie and secretly maintaining a hidden life that costs much more than it is ever worth.
“This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” Perhaps some of our readers and followers find themselves at a point in their spiritual life where they know they want to grow deeper and with more integrity but there is weakness in the human condition and often we can clearly commiserate with St. Paul who longs to do the right thing but also experiences the pull of selfishness. This is where this great Biblical writer who has penned the majority of the New Testament is so brilliant. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Clearly, when we accept our humanity and the people we truly are, we will see the great need we have for the Lord Jesus. Nothing and no one else will ever satisfy.
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You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. Abraham Lincoln
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.” With age, I hope I can see the world much more clearly. There are a good number of people that I love and cherish dearly and while there are a good many others that have seemingly dropped out of my life, there is a definite pattern that has emerged that deepens respect and admiration for all the people who have populated my life. I have loved them because they have shown me Jesus. Their ways of handling death, disappointment, fun, friends and family have all slowly formed a clear picture of character that is unmistakably the mark of one who truly loves God. Imagine how the crowd in today’s Gospel must have felt when they heard that they must live their life in the light of truth before the world. What goes through your mind?
“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Today, no matter what you have to face or confront or carry, keep those words of Christ alive in your heart. Perhaps you could ask yourself, “who do people see in me?” If we can honestly say that others have seen or heard the Lord in something we said or did, then we can sleep calmly and without fear.
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All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. St. Francis of Assisi
“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” From the very beginning of the Revelation we have received beginning in the Old Testament, we encounter the notion and the nature of the kind of deep and lasting relationship that the Lord has always wanted for us. Like a good earthly father who wants to give his own family all he has for love and survival, we look to our Heavenly Father who does the same. When we realize and accept this truth, we can easily join the Psalmist in the moment of pure joy: “I rejoiced because they said to me, ‘We will go up to the house of the LORD.’And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
Today’s Gospel brings closely to us the moment where Jesus makes this intimate relationship so much more clear and meaningful: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Jesus was not minimizing His relationship with His mother through these words. He was expanding it. He hungers, through Divine love, to include all of us in the “family circle” of God. In doing so, He invites us on the journey home. In this exchange, Jesus really opens up the interior importance and meaning of the motherhood of Mary – and through that relationship – the interior meaning of all family relationships.
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” The Church is a family. Understanding this insight, and living it, is a key to a deep and wonderful spiritual life. Our vocation is fundamentally about relationship and communion. All who are incorporated into the Body of Jesus Christ through Baptism begin even now to experience the intimacy, (expressed in family relationships), that is the essence of the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. Through His life, death and Resurrection, Jesus opens a way for every man, woman and child, who chooses to do the will of His Father, to enter into the very family circle of God through truly living our lives in Him.
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Cherish your family connections. They are one of God’s greatest ways of demonstrating His love and fellowship. Norman Vincent Peale
“And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” Have you ever walked into a room and automatically felt that something was terribly wrong? And by “terribly wrong,” we mean there is an atmosphere or attitude that is so negative and critical that you just cannot get away from there fast enough. In fact, the departure is so quick and determined that you leave a trail of dust behind. The Lord Jesus knows exactly the kind of world we occupy. It is full of negative and sinful postures that seek to choke and stifle the beautiful Gospel message. He also knows that we can trust Him with every good gift and wise choice. This is why we are forewarned and thus forearmed: any belligerent or hyper-critical encounter over the Gospel must end with an encounter with the closest door and move to the next page that God has already written and waiting for us.
“Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins.” The great news today, among the many other blessings we see and cannot see, is the fact that the Lord has once again reaffirmed His great love for us and His constant protection over every single step we take no matter what kind of encounter is waiting for us. All we have to do is remain faithful to His Word, be fed constantly with the Eucharist, and never ever lose hope even in the face of seemingly hostile and hateful rejection.
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Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better. Dr. Steve Maraboli
“Go up into the hill country; bring timber, and build the house that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory, says the LORD.” Our First Reading is fascinating on a whole slew of levels. It comes to us from the prophet Haggai who was charged to bring God’s timely message to the Jewish people who had just returned to the homeland in Jerusalem after having endured a wretched captivity among the Babylonians. History records that about 70 years earlier, the Temple had been destroyed along with most of the cherished city. Now, the duty rested heavily upon them to rebuild everything. However, there was a problem. In a strange turn of events, work on the Temple was stopped while the other elements of Jewish life continued to prosper and return to their pre-captivity moments. Enter Haggai with his terribly clear message: put first things first and rebuild the Temple!
The Gospel then presents us with the “poster-child” of life without proper and appropriate priorities, boundaries or purpose. Enter King Herod. Here is a ruler whose depth of depravity were only matched by his selfish and criminal intentions. Not only was Herod‘s life out of control, it was wreaking havoc, death and destruction and innocent people in his immediate sphere of influence. He had put himself first and center in his universe and thus was understandably perplexed when Jesus came into his world: “But Herod said, ‘John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”
What can we learn from the jewels of the Scriptures today? Consider these:
1. Stop making excuses: nothing kills the spirit of growth and spiritual maturity more than petty excuses as to why we didn’t do something that we really wanted to accomplish but allowed something (or someone) to get in the way.
2. Stop being selfish: when we forget those around us and what they may need of us in this life, we become hypercritical and hypersensitive.
3. Stop being blind: count your blessings not your problems. You’ll really be surprised.
4. Just stop: take time to evaluate your life and examine your motives and intentions.
Finally, the crazed madman Herod did get at least one thing right: “And he kept trying to see him.” When we desire wisdom and holiness as much as we need the air to breathe, we will find both and the face of Jesus smiling widely upon us.
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An unexamined life is not worth living. Plato
“And take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work!” It is important to remember that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah played an important role in encouraging the Jewish people and their leaders to return to their homeland and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple following the Babylonian exile. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are also key literary sources on the Restoration of the Jewish religious community. What our First Reading underscores is both quite simple and beautiful: The ultimate depth of any of our prayers must slowly and surely reach the ultimate surrender of everything to the one who made us out of pure love. This sentiment is captured throughout the Psalm of today and is echoed brilliantly and with great comfort throughout the Gospels. The rain must fall but with dawn comes rejoicing because of the very one who died for us.
“The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And how do we know all this is true? Jesus lived it and won for us the crown of victory which is custom-shaped to each one of us depending on our own situations and life settings. We also have today the example of St. Vincent de Paul who lifted up the poor and hungry and sought to educate the clergy. Suffering will always be with us which means that we must always seek to understand the deep misery of despair, unite those sufferings to Jesus and thus reach to the other side of glory. Consider this from St. Teresa of Calcutta on the occasion of her first visit to the United States:
I suppose that some of you are feeling that you would have to buy a plane ticket and travel to India if you were to give effective help to the poor. There is no need. The poor are right here in your own country… In developed nations like yours, there is an abundance of food. But there is often a famine of the heart due to a lack of love. The victims of this famine of love are the new poor. And who are these poor people? They are the people sitting next to you.
Look around you today. There are others who are hurting. Together we are going to win this. Jesus promised.
“Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” A pair of proud grandparents went to their five-year-old grandson’s basketball game. All those tiny athletes were adorable. Their lack of knowledge and expertise were clear as they ran without dribbling the ball, went down the court and shot at the wrong basket, and wandered aimlessly across the floor. Let’s just say it was highly entertaining. But those basketball stars are four and five. It’s what we’d expect from them at this age. Their games are a great way for them to work off excess energy, learn to work together as a team and discover more about the sport of basketball. With players this young, multiple coaches stay on the floor with them, literally moving them around to their proper positions—it works well until the children lose focus. Partway through the game, they heard their daughter calling out to her son, “Ethan, watch the coach. Listen to him.” Immediately the two elderly fans together heard a whisper in their heart as if it came straight from God: “That’s what you need to do to Me.”
“Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” Today our Scriptures beg us to please pay attention to all the wonders around us. No matter how small or insignificant they may seem, you and I will be able to decipher and discover great mysteries of life if we just pay attention to the voice and footprints of Jesus on our life. Try it today.
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We learn to praise God not by paying compliments but by paying attention. Frederick Buechner
“Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! 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 Amos 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: “Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”
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
“The LORD looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die.” There once was this criminal who had been accused of a crime and sentenced. He was sent to the king for his punishment. The king told him he had a choice of two punishments. He could be hung by a rope or take what’s behind the big, dark, scary, iron door. The criminal quickly decided on the rope. As the noose was being slipped on him, he turned to the king and asked. “By the way, out of curiosity, what’s behind that door?” The king laughed and said: “You know, it’s funny, I offer everyone the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope.” “So,” said the criminal, “Tell me. What’s behind the door? I mean, obviously, I won’t tell anyone,” he said, pointing to the noose around his neck. The king paused then answered, “Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.”
“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” As we conclude yet another September of our lives, our thoughts and attention will draw ever more close to the gifts awaiting us in the remaining weeks of the Liturgical Year including, All Saints and All Souls Days, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. Today, let us examine the place and power of fear in our lives and adopt the childlike trust and faith in our loving God. I read once that people really do not fear the unknown, rather, they fear what they think they know about the unknown. That always made sense to me: fear is truly useless. It has stalled great decisions, and prevented great people to rise above the wickedness and pettiness around them. Do you remember how much damage was inflicted when people allowed fear to decide their future? Religious leaders plotted and conspired to murder; healed people turned on their healer; strong Apostles (for the most part) fled, denied and betrayed their Master. However now, the scenes have changed: the miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus has allowed once fearful people to change their thinking and readjust their life paths. The words of the Alleluia Verse have become the lyrics of a new song in the hearts of those who believe: “The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
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Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that Jesus is with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence. St. John Paul II
“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Our Scriptures open up with one of the most remarkable quotes ever uttered by the author of the Book of Zechariah who continues to infuse our thinking and day-to-day living with remarkable and helpful insights which we desperately need in this frenetic world. We are speaking here about a healthy, totally God-centered confident detachment from all the forces of darkness and disappointment that cause us or at least tempt us to worry and lose hope as we make our way in our Spiritual lives toward Heaven. This is not always easily accomplished because as adults, we feel very often that we must work for, attain and operate with “full control” of any given situation. However, when we find someone who clearly has the Lord with them and in them, permeating even their speech and routine, we immediately want to follow.
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
And yet, when we find people in the opposite camp of existence, that is, people who brood and breed evil among them, once again, Jesus the Lord motivates us with a much simpler, holier and healthier way of life by asking all of us to recall and relive what it means to be forgiving yet watchful and vigilant in this life. Let God take care of those who do harm to others. He is so much better at it. When we receive and accept this portion of our personality and truly learn to live in the moment and be here right now, we will understand why Jesus loved children so much and why He loves us in that very same and innocently trusting way.
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To live and let live, without clamor for distinction or recognition; to wait on divine love; to write truth first on the tablet of one’s own heart – this is the sanity and perfection of living, and my human ideal. Mary Baker Eddy
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Do you want to be the greatest at anything? I can only imagine that in this highly competitive yet entitlement-minded society, people are either trying to get ahead or just exist and coast. Both are an extreme way of living. Some would call this “all-or-nothing” thinking which has traditionally led many down a dark and lonely path. You see, Jesus changes all that: “Do you want to be great?,” He asks. And before answering, Our Lord places right in front of all the readers of the Gospel throughout the centuries, a child. An innocent, loving, trusting child cries when he or she is angry or has aced selfishly.
Trust the Lord, He loves you! And if you need a little more help, guess what? It will be there: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Did you catch that? Every child has their own, personal angel constantly in touch with the Father. You and I were all once children, so we still have them. That is what the Scripture says and that is what the Church teaches today on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Name your angel. Take a deep breath and move forward. Trust Jesus. Now, that’s great.
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Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this night/day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide.
“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” Have you ever walked into a room and automatically felt that something was terribly wrong? And by “terribly wrong,” what is meant is an atmosphere or attitude that is so negative and critical that you just cannot get away from there fast enough. In fact, the departure is so quick and determined that you leave a trial of dust behind. The Lord Jesus knows exactly the kind of world we occupy. It is full of negative and sinful postures that seek to choke and stifle the beautiful Gospel message. He also knows that that we can trust Him with every good gift and wise choice. This is why we are forewarned and thus forearmed: any belligerent or hypercritical encounter over the Gospel must end with a encounter with the closest door and move to the next page that God has already written and waiting for us.
“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.” Following the Lord Jesus must have obvious effects in our lives and help us see things in an entirely different manner. When everything is compared to the source of our salvation and our redemption, our problems and worries begin to shrink and fast! Jesus makes all things new again.
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When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened. Winston Churchill
“From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Today is the great and glorious Feast of St. Francis of Assisi who was gifted with the stigmata, the actual markings of the passion of Christ. His very name and the city of Assisi are remarkably full of peace. But it was not always like that. Francis had a previous life that was not so saintly but because of a rich conversion, much like that of St. Paul of which we read in our First Reading, God is truly praised by the deep renewal within the human soul and spirit. Assisi, previously at war with Perugia, also encountered a deep change. “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.”
St. Francis taught and lived the great mystery which is within each and every one of us. We are truly, all of us, walking miracles because of the one who created us and brought us into being. When you truly think about it, change and conversion toward God is more natural and normal than staying the same, especially in a life of sin and selfishness. “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” Yes, this is true. If we just for a single moment each day realize that we are one day closer either to Heaven or Hell, then everything we do and say today will have great and deep repercussions in eternity. This is a gift of peace, not of anxiety. Change is the one constant in the universe, so for us to ask for the grace of ongoing conversion is completely in line with our own destiny and essence. Take some time today and quietly, gently pray the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Watch what happens:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
There is a popular little story that has been circulating around for quite a while now. The plot is relatively simple: A little boy walks up to his mother in the kitchen as she is preparing supper, and is a little annoyed that her son can’t seem to wait until everything is ready. Well, he hands her an invoice! Exactly. He is basically charging the family for things like cutting the grass, cleaning his room, babysitting, etc. And there he was, waiting for payment with hand outstretched.
The reflection continues with his mother recalling all the memories of her son from the day she told her husband that she was pregnant, to the day they brought him home to this very moment in time. Her response was not only brilliant, poetic and moving, but also laced with pure truth:
For the nine months I carried you in my womb, NO CHARGE.
For all the times you were sick and I took care of you, NO CHARGE.
For all the hours I worried about you, NO CHARGE.
For everything we ever bought for you, NO CHARGE.
For all the meals we served you, NO CHARGE.
For a nice home, good parents and a happy life, NO CHARGE.
The story ends beautifully with the little boy crying a bit, telling his mom how much he loves her and then takes the pen, X’s out the bill and writes in big bold letters, PAID IN FULL.
The Lord is calling out to you and me to re-capture the joy and innocence of being a child. So care-free, so loved and yet so small-minded, at times. Let us move forward as His children and love being loved by the one who is love. From our First Reading: “Fear not, my children; call out to God!” From the Gospel: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”
Let us pray: I am God’s precious child and have been bought at a price. There is no reason to lose hope because God will never fail me. May I remember this and smile and rejoice. Amen.Leave a comment
“The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.” This morning we have been served a most excellent meal of wisdom and insight that cannot be wasted. The morsel of truth and clarity are buried, as it were, like a pearl among the refuse of shell and sand waiting for us to discover its most precious beauty. Enlightenment that is true and sustainable does not come at the hands of sorcery, pills or clandestine self-help puzzles but by suffering and self-emptying of selfishness and ego-driven lives. We know this to be true because Jesus lived in this very same way producing not only our salvation but the very path upon which we would find hope and serenity for the days and years to come, however more we may have left. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”
The Gospel of today also provide for us a time-honored image for the Kingdom for which we need this clarity and insight: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” This ever-popular Gospel passage should also enthuse those cooking aficionados among our readers. Is anyone aware of the various uses of mustard, other than being spread on hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches? The following may send you searching through the internet to secure the validity of these claims. It has been used as a mild burn relief; a cosmetic face mask for skin rejuvenation; relief for sore muscles and sore throat; and the removal of the toxic and awful odor of the shrewd skunk in case you find yourself ever-too-close and sprayed with mayhem. Living in the Kingdom means relief from the scorching rays of a hostile world and facing it with renewed vigor and the glow of the Spirit. It means relief from the wear and tear on our bodies as we desperately travel the moral roads through unknown lands while bravely clearing our throat to preach the Gospel, in season and out. It also means throwing off the stench of sinfulness and accepting the sweetness of forgiveness freely and mercifully offered in confession. Accept all the wonderful promises Jesus has made to you and those you love and ask for the courage to walk in light and carry your faith to all aspects of your life. We follow a crucified Lord and Savior who found His way out of the grave to set us free from all the other elements of death and sadness that are placed in it. May today’s reflection put a smile on your face and help you keep going. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
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Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolishness to us—a crucified God—must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world. John Piper
“But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah
remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Keep in mind that everything written in the Old Testament is preparing us for the New. Everything. The Bible is the complete, composite, Word of God = Jesus! Therefore, what is the relationship between Jonah and the Good Samaritan? There are several clues. First is the mention of the “belly” of the whale, beten in Hebrew which is also the word for womb. Israelite creation stories use three important metaphors to indicate the connection between birth and death: 1. womb, 2. tomb, and 3. dungeon. The womb is the primary key word because the grave and the dungeon are all considered as wombs from which new life emerges. The fact that Jonah is in the “dungeon” of the whale for three days clearly prepares us for the three days that Jesus spent in the “belly” of the earth. We all know that a whale could never hold the body of a man so the actual whale here is more like a dragon or monster (something evil) in Hebrew. “You will rescue my life from the pit, O Lord.”
“And who is my neighbor?” That is important when we ask who is the Good Samaritan? To answer that, let’s look at the story: “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” The words, a man, in Hebrew, is the same for humanity. That changes things, doesn’t it? So if the story is about humanity that has been jumped by the evil one, then it is Jesus who is the only one who can help, seeing how the old priesthood (the unhelpful cleric) and the old Law (the Levite) cannot help by themselves. So He approaches the victim, coming down as He did from Heaven in Bethlehem (Christmas), pours wine and oil in the wound (Sacramental Life), lifts the wounded, lifts him upon His own animal (becomes Human through the Incarnation), takes him to an inn (The Church), leaves two coins, (Scripture and Tradition) and then utters those immortal words by promising that He’ll take care of everything “on my way back” (The End of the World, or Apocalypse). So in a phrase, what does this all mean? If you want out of the whale, be like Jesus, love like Jesus, remain with the Church and wait with innocent love so He will recognize you “when He comes again.”
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The thing is, God has already seen every twist and turn of your life. He already knows what’s in your heart. He already knows the decisions you’ve made. He’s just waiting for you to all on Him and be honest with him like Jonah was. Victoria Osteen
“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.” 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 a sometimes small, sometimes 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: They changed their ways, trusted God through the words of Jonah and were saved.
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 so insistent with the only recourse we have when we have made that tumultuous leap of complete trust:“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD, LORD, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.” The benefits of this leap of faith are then made crystal clear and even more desirable in the Gospel today. The scene there is similar to the many experiences that we have had when something happens to us which we believe is simply not fair. This is certainly true today in the Gospel with the two famous sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha begins with Jesus suggesting that somehow all of the present tasks and responsibilities have fallen in her lap while Mary gets a pass. However, in what might be seen as a surprise response, Jesus invites her to be ready to make that leap of faith and trust with all her heart and mind as to the outcome. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” 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.”
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“Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry that God did not carry out the evil he threatened against Nineveh.” Poor Jonah! He is angry again. God didn’t punish those people because, well, they repented and begged for mercy and the Lord said, “Yes!” It is clear by now that the Book of Jonah is the story of a disobedient, narrow-minded prophet who is upset at the outcome of the only message he was supposed to deliver. So he sulks, he mopes, broods, is sullen, has a long face, remains in a bad mood, is in a huff, and is seemingly incurably grumpy. Sound like anyone you know? And all this pathetic fit-throwing because God did not follow Jonah’s script which he passionately wrote for God. It does sound horribly immature and selfish, at the very least, overwhelmingly short-sighted and oddly familiar.
So what, is prayer the remedy to Jonah’s dilemma and everyone else’s we know inflicted with this spiritual bias? It is quite simple and brilliant: “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” We have here the universally famous prayer of the “Our Father.” The only prayer that Jesus taught. The message of mercy is both simple and readily experienced in the life of anyone who wants to find deep joy and happiness even in the midst of pain and suffering. We turn to Him and cry out, “God, you are Holy and I need you for everything, especially for forgiveness!
Before putting the finishing touches on this very long day, placing in proper perspective especially the people and things that may have caused us to be angry, pray the “Our Father” and see if you can master this practice every night. It just could be the last prayer you ever offer on this planet. And what a strategically beautiful way to exit!Leave a comment
“Then they who fear the LORD spoke with one another, and the LORD listened attentively.” One of the greatest truths and comforting aspects of our journey with the Lord Jesus is that we have been assured time and time again that God listens to all of our prayers all of the time with all the intensity of divine love and immense care for each and every one of us. This is why today we must re-commit and renew our efforts to pray. 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]
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 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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A beginner must look on himself as one setting out to make a garden for his Lord’s pleasure, on most unfruitful soil which abounds in weeds. His Majesty roots up the weeds and will put in good plants instead. Let us reckon that this is already done when the soul decides to practice prayer and has begun to do so. Saint Teresa of Avila
“The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons.'” This encounter that was presented to us today in the Gospel truly relays to us the sense of viciousness and ferocity of the climate into which Jesus the Christ (and our King) began His ministry. What we have here is an excellent example of character assassination in the Bible. Jesus addressed the issue in a very beautiful and Messianic way. He confronted evil by the sheer power of his own truth and love and invited those present and us this very day to enter a deeper reflection on the mystery of His Kingdom and the invitation to live there for all eternity.
“Their like has not been from of old, nor will it be after them, even to the years of distant generations.” You see, when individuals are not aware of the evil within their very heart and personality, they project it onto others whom they believe to be the very existence of evil in their own twisted and malformed perspectives. Because the scribes were blind they were trapped and looked completely foolish and pathetic. We often despise in others what we despise in our own life. Make sure Jesus lives and moves and breathes in yours.
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Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen. St. Thomas Aquinas
“Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” The situation in our Gospel of today reminds us, among other things, that actions speak louder than words. Think of the people in your life that you can truly count on whenever necessary. We say that their words are “golden” because they are true. Many organizations have mission statements declaring that their top aims are customer service, product quality, civic integrity, putting their people first, and the like. Yet many such businesses have poor service, quality, integrity, and employee relations. Individuals may do the same thing, extolling their plans, yet failing to implement them. Organizations and individuals falling into this trap may have good intentions, and they may not recognize they are failing to live up to their rhetoric. Workplaces and those individuals we choose to be a part of our lives need both effective ways of clearly living their mission and goals, and impartial and time-tested challenges and opportunities to give unvarnished feedback. Sounds like integrity to me.
“Then shall you know that I, the LORD, am your God, dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain.” This entire discussion brings us right back to the First Reading. Just as the Lord is present, tender and merciful with us, we must be honest and forthright with each other because we are responsible to each other. Many times our own friends will interpret our silence as approval in a wild variety of situations. “I didn’t know you felt that way” is a phrase that comes to mind when we do not risk rejection in the service of truth.
Perhaps the basic message today is simple: We are what we do, not what we say we’ll do.Leave a comment
There is a remarkable juxtaposition, a type of literary set of bookends in our Readings of today. In the First Reading, the assured faith and belief that the prophet could actually heal leads to wonderful consequences: “Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.” However and quite sadly, the same is not true later in the life of Jesus: “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.” Jesus’ own people would not, or could not accept Him as the Messiah because they allowed doubt and tragic unbelief to stifle and cloud any hope of a miracle in their midst. And this is the real important meaning of the imagery: leprosy.
If we were to look upon this frightful and dehumanizing disease that attacks the skin and bones, it becomes an excellent metaphor for the lack of faith and vain trust in self and its effects on the soul. One horrible aftermath of leprosy was the exclusion of the sufferer from the rest of the community. They became outcasts and wholly rejected. So, too with the seeds of sin and death that undermine a true and loving attachment to the Lord: we become outsiders to life and seemingly never able to be part of the community again. This is where the touch of Christ means everything. He wants us close to Him; He desires our reunion with the Church and the community of believers. He truly wants us closer to Him than we are to ourselves. We must die to pride so we can live again. St. Paul’s Second Reading says it best: “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Perhaps there is no other depiction from anywhere in the Bible which illustrates and highlights the depth of ingratitude. The sick, horribly-looking lepers came to Jesus with desperate longing and need; he cured them all and nine never came back to give thanks. So often, once a person gets what he or she wants, they never come back. What a painful experience to be on the receiving end of such selfish, egotistical behavior. Have you ever wondered what causes that?
The current level of detachment in our society could be a clue. We seem to be facing reality through a screen of some sort: smartphone, laptop, tablet, computer, television, etc., all train us to take an almost inhuman step away from reality so as not to become too immersed with any real internal and integrated approach to life, you know, the way Jesus approached everyone in the Scriptures and how he deals with you and me right here, right now.
We can take our cue from the one leper who did in fact come back to give thanks to Jesus. He knew what happened to him. He knew what his healing meant for the rest of his life. He truly knew who healed him. Can you imagine what kind of life he lived after that? Jesus gives us the answer: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Let us consider some ways to learn how to be grateful:
*Take your focus off of yourself and consider the people God has placed around you (we need each other)
*Count your blessings from God (you will be amazed)
*Accept your emotional state: Feel-Deal-Heal
*Welcome time alone as precious for growth with Jesus who did the same
*Avoid comparing your life to others: you never really know what goes on behind the smiles
*Shake the Green Monsters: envy and jealousy (open wounds of insecurity)
*Fight the desire to isolate and seclude yourself from others (wounds just fester)
*Avoid negative voices and situations (misery loves company)
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” What a powerful image we have been given today as we begin a brand new week in walking with the Lord Jesus. To be attuned to the voice of Christ and to be drawn and driven in listening to it no matter what the cost is the goal of all who want to find their way to Heaven with the great and powerfully loving assistance of the Good Shepherd. However, this search must not become one of superstition and doubt: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” There is no website or social media account that accomplishes the value and depth of speaking and listening directly with the Lord in prayer strengthened by our daily dose of the Scriptures and Eucharistic nourishment. Let us decide this week to make the time and listen intensely to our Master’s voice. He is always ready to start a conversation.
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Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words. Roy T. Bennett
Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582), probably the female saint and mystic with greatest influence on the world on so many levels. Below is one of her most famous poems which we will intersperse with passages from the Scriptures today.
Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee: All things pass. “The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” God never changes. “Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.” Patience attains all that it strives for. “Not a word nor a discourse whose voice is not heard.” He who has God finds he lacks nothing. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” God alone suffices. “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”
We are free because of the desire of God to send us His only-begotten Son that enwraps his mercy and love all around us every single day. Do not let anything rob you of any joy or peace today. You will get through this day because you started with Jesus and you will end with Him. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
“Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” So how does Jesus respond to our “old friends” today? Well, to say the least, it wasn’t pretty. Why the harshness of reaction? That’s what happens when we won’t see how incredibly God is working in our life or in the lives of others. It is the expected consequence when we hide behind the Law and miss the Law-giver in our midst. The people who understand this always rejoice but the ones who judge and criticize and try to “fix” everyone else except themselves are almost always humiliated. It all depends on the quality of the relationship we have with the Lord Jesus.
Today, let us first give thanks that our Lord loves us so much that we are constantly being exposed to the truth in our lives, ugly at times, but always liberating. Second, let us ask again for the courage to see Jesus in others as we look for Him in our own souls. This is definitely the recipe for true happiness.
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“Sometimes, you will go through awful trials in your life and then a miracle happens–God heals you. Don’t be disheartened when the people you love don’t see things like you do. There will be Pharisees in your life that will laugh it off, deny that it happened, or will mock your experience based on righteousness they think you don’t possess. God won’t deny you a spiritual experience because you are not a spiritual leader. He loves everyone equal. The only people that really matter in life are the people that can “see” your heart and rejoice with you.” Shannon L. Alder
“Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.” There is a strange occurrence in this journey we call life that happens, not to all, but to some, and for those individuals, it is an experience that is hardly forgettable. It involves the selfish, tireless attempt on the part of the spiritually immature, especially those with a little authority, to keep from others what they themselves cannot or will not have. This is what explains, in part, those who seem to make it their life’s work to make other people miserable, especially if they have any perceived power over them. They reason, quite insanely and ineffectively, that if they cannot be happy then no one will be happy. Pathetic. This explains in part why the Pharisees were the virtual enemies of the Lord and, by matter of extension, to the whole of Christianity and that is because when one finds the ultimate happiness in one’s relationship with the Lord, the only other response is to share and include as many people with that friendship as possible. The Pharisees and scribes were sort-of gnostics who thought they alone had all precious knowledge necessary for happiness. Wrong again.
“With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.“ Unfortunately for us on this great road, the Pharisees still sashay among us with equally morally squalid and foul attitudes of arrogance and condescending acts. But even more fortunately for us, Jesus remains in the world for us to find our way to Heaven with a fullness of mercy and compassion which in turn, is ours to share with each other. Find Jesus and share Jesus. This is the core of evangelization and a very happy way of life.
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“No matter what has happened to you in the past or what is going on in your life right now, it has no power to keep you from having an amazingly good future if you will walk by faith in God. God loves you! He wants you to live with victory over sin so you can possess His promises for your life today!” Joyce Meyer
“I chose you from the world, to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.” Everyone has a mission in life. Everyone spends their life searching for that mission and when one finds it, they hang on for dear life. Others, never discover it and live out their days in less than quiet desperation. This is what we can gather from the readings today. The Lord has fashioned us and sends us forward into this world for a definite purpose and that purpose has everything to do with bearing fruit that will last. That means eternal fruit.
“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” This directive is never easy. There will always be those around us who will fight and attempt to destroy the harvest. The First Reading assures each and everyone of us that He will be there to strengthen and guide, and yet, even to protect us from the plotting of those who would pull up the wheat instead of the weeds. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”
We are all called to respond to this great invitation. Every day presents itself with a new opportunity to spread the Gospel and the message of love and forgiveness that is contained right there all the time. This is just part of the great gift we can open today on the Feast of St. Luke who spent his years on earth doubling as both a physician and theologian. Saint Luke the Evangelist, Pray for us!
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“Don’t wait for a feeling or love in order to share Christ with a stranger. You already love your heavenly Father, and you know that this stranger is created by Him, but separated from Him, so take those first steps because you love God. It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is first of all, love for God.“
“I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.” But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” There is an interesting connection among three key elements that Jesus presents to us today: 1) Denial of God 2) Denial of the Holy Spirit 3) Defense of our Faith. Let’s take them in that order. First, we are clearly told that if we live as if Jesus never came and/or we never met Him, we should expect the same treatment, that is, He will do the same. Second, if we speak with words of hared and defiance against the Holy Spirit, and surely against God in any way, shape or form, we are to expect serious consequences. And lastly, if we neither deny nor defy God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, but rather live in Him and through Him, then we can and should expect that our very speech, our lives, our thoughts, and all that makes us who we are will be defined by the depth and breadth of our love of God in everyday life. In other words, we will certainly shine.
And here is the major connection: All three warnings and predictions have to do with the next life. Jesus promises that if we recognize Him now on earth, He will recognize us later in Heaven. If anyone repeatedly closes their eyes to God and shuts their ears to His voice now, they will most certainly come to a point where they can no longer recognize God, and thus they see evil as good and good as evil even to that tragic point of that person’s last breath in which they could very well miss any chance of living forever with God in eternity, that is, later. Finally, if our deep trust is with the Lord, His Holy Spirit is promised to us as it was to Abraham and all his descendants as we read in the First Reading so that we will never have to worry what to say before this world’s authority, now, or to the authority of Heaven, later.
Question for the Day: What are the two most important moments of our life? Now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Before moving forward on this beautiful Sunday and Sabbath experiences, let us take a look at the mention of the widow in the Bible: 56 times in the Old Testament and 26 in the New. Not just a casual passing reference, wouldn’t you say? With these many occurrences, clearly something beautiful is going on and we need to examine this if we are to gain spiritual benefits from these powerful Readings from Holy Scripture. In the Old Testament, the common words associated with the mention of widows were: weeping, mourning, desolation, poverty and indebtedness. They were especially vulnerable because they were absolutely dependent on everyone and thus had known both the joy of love and the anguish of loss more than any other member of society. And because of this particular life experience, widows probably reflected the image of God much more significantly than others.
In the New Testament, widows were prominent such as Anna, the long-time widowed temple attendant who was uniquely privileged to greet the infant Messiah; A widow who received the miraculous gift of seeing her son healed by Jesus because of His deep and warm compassion for her; Today, there is the remarkable persistence from a widow who keeps demanding justice from a corrupt judge and the great meaning and value of persistence in prayer with our Loving God. “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”
This life is it. There will be no “second-chance,” or “let me try this again until I get it right.” Instead, it appears that before our final, earthly, and physical death, there is an urgency for us to face a spiritual dying to oneself, to empty oneself of attachments and obsessions, and to recall the example and image of the widow who clearly provided a lifetime example of “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Spiritual poverty begins with depending on God completely, letting go of the non-important pettiness we encounter, and contributing to the core of our livelihood which is the deep desire to follow the Lord Jesus. This takes us to the border between life and death where there are no guarantees – only hope, where there are no answers – only faith, and where there is no security – only love. This is where the poor widow lives. This is where God lives. And they live in union as one. In the face of the poor widow – the face of spiritual poverty – Jesus sees and recognizes Himself—and we see Him.
“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” So my dear friends, what are we to do as we bathe in the grace of these powerful proclamations from Scripture?
First, practice the faith. Of course the spiritual life is a struggle, but within that grind, we find ourselves and our road to holiness. Second, be generous in the things of God and pray for the spirit of detachment. The widow lived this remarkable spirit and even though in monetary terms, her offering didn’t amount to much, her intention and her heart certainly did, as she was poised for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally, reject discouragement and dedicate your speech to encouragement:
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”
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“Difficult and meaningful will always bring more satisfaction than easy and meaningless.” Maxime Lagace
“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Several famous people have been quoted as saying that too many people today know the price of everything and the value of nothing. These people would be classified as cynics. The idea that anyone in the “real world” should even consider ethical, moral, philosophical or cultural values to be on par with financial or economic ‘value’ appears whimsical, sentimental, even romantic. Hard-nosed, sensible, rational, practical people know otherwise. It’s all about money, “they” say…But is it really? The words of the Gospel make it very clear to us that God will have the first and last word. “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
The spiritually dead are all around us. They may look alive and have plenty of possessions, even looks and money, but this does not ensure life, especially eternal life. It is precisely the “age of this world” that promotes that misguided philosophy that you are what you have. We do not belong to things. We do not essentially consist of material realities because in the end, all we will have could never be measured, touched or counted. Our soul is what is of supreme value.
Greed makes us servants of possessions. We could easily remember this by the quote that “we can’t be possessed by our possessions.” Yet it happens all around us precisely because people have already decided which God they will serve. Greed makes the false and empty promise that things and possessions can save and bring us to eternal happiness and peace. The best way to avoid all this is pray in thanksgiving to the one who gives us everything we have. If we keep remembering that all I have comes from God then I cannot and will not forget how wonderfully generous my God is to me.
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“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Socrates
“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you may have the strength to stand before the Son of Man.” Over thirty years ago, there was a ship off the coast of Massachusetts that was reported lost at sea. There were a reported forty-five men on board, most of whom were residents from a small fishing town near Plymouth. For the first week, wives, children and family members set up make-shift camps along the seashore to wait and watch for any signs of recovery. After ten days, some of those grew tired and even discouraged and began to make their way back to their homes, still leaving a smaller remnant of those who would stay vigilant. Finally, on the fifteenth day of their disappearance, the vessel sailed back into harbor, all aboard hungry and tired, but certainly safe and alive. It was said that one of the men looked sad as he disembarked. He just shrugged and walked away to his little cottage of a home to the surprise of his wife and children. But he still looked upset. “What’s wrong, dear?,” asked his wife. “Why weren’t you out there with the other families on the shore when we arrived?,” he responded. “We were waiting for you, honey,” came his wife’s explanation. “But you weren’t watching…”
“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Do you think that’s splitting hairs? Maybe. However, the slight difference in the words can be of dramatic importance when we apply them to waiting for the Lord. Waiting seems to be passive, as if I can have many other priorities or concerns because, after all, “when He comes He comes, right?” Watching implies vigilance, continued hope and deep resolve. Watching is active, on-going and, yes, life-changing. Let’s be sure. Whether you and I are waiting or watching, it will be the same Lord. But, how will we be different?
God is worth waiting for; His time is always best. Watching for Him makes our hearts ready and open and joyful to meet Him at any given moment and that makes a difference on how we live.
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“I believe that a trusting attitude and a patient attitude go hand in hand. You see, when you let go and learn to trust God, it releases joy in your life. And when you trust God, you’re able to be more patient. Patience is not just about waiting for something… it’s about how you wait, or your attitude while waiting.” Joyce Meyer
What we have today could make the supreme difference in our day at this very moment. This is but a small slice of the awesome power of the Word of God. “But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” What did slaves and thieves have in common in Roman Antiquity? They were both branded on the forehead with a mark, called a stigma, and thereby said to have been “engraved” like a coin or a medal. Both types of individuals were certainly known to the culture of the time when today’s Scriptures were written (Romans around 56-58 AD and Luke’s Gospel between 80-100 AD). They also shared common punishments: lashes and beatings, forced to carry a piece of wood around their necks, and in some cases, crucifixion. Of course, these are the same afflictions endured by Jesus as an integral part of the Paschal Mystery by which we are justified, redeemed and saved for a great future in Heaven.
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” These specific references can help us realize several things about living the Christian life, being a disciple and a follower of Jesus Christ: We have been marked in this life and claimed for someone or something. Our choice now is to determine for whom by how we live. As Christians today, we can expect to be punished as was our Savior, in the court of popularity, greed, hatred and the godless. Remaining faithful to the end, which comes secretly or unexpectedly and without being seen, “like a thief in the nig
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Every person is endowed with God-given abilities, and we must cultivate every once of talent we have in order to maintain our pinnacle position in the world. Dr. Ben Carson
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” What is behind the use of setting the world aflame by Jesus in the Gospel today? Keep in mind that the Bible is to be seen as a complete unity, the Old preparing for the New, the New ratifying the Old. When the Lord uses the image of fire, then it is advantageous for us to go deeper into the meaning and purpose and background of certain words and phrases to truly grasp all the spiritual wealth that is waiting for us, ripe for the picking. Here are but a few:
Exodus 3, the Burning Bush: God is truly present, “you are standing on Holy Ground.”
Ezekiel 1, a cloud of fire: God’s glory is magnificent.
2 Kings 1, fire from Heaven wiped out 50 soldiers: Power over life and death.
Matthew 25, Eternal fire is destination for devil and demons: Hell is real and horrible.
Acts 2, tongues of fire descend on the twelve: The Holy Spirit “enflames” the Church.
Revelation 21, a lake of fire and sulfur awaits the faithless: a second death.
From this small sampling of fire images from the Scriptures, we can safely determine that Jesus clearly wants to purify and cleanse all of humanity, instill a reverent and holy fear in us (awesome approach to God) and establish His Kingdom where there will be both judgment and serious consequences to our responses, both here and now and much later.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of His Reign over us and remembering the dire consequences of the refusal to love, there will be division starting in one’s own family, household and beyond: when the word ‘family’ is used in the Bible, it usually means either the clan or the extended family group, and could very easily include as many as two hundred people, or as few as fifteen. Thus, Jesus is describing the essence of a true disciple as one who loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Him. He insists that His disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or relatives or circle of friends.
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Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you get neither. C.S. Lewis
How? “Lord, teach me your statutes.” Who? “I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.” When? “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” The Jews of Palestine were quite astute when it came to the weather. When they saw the clouds forming in the west over the Mediterranean Sea, they knew rain was on the way. When the south wind blew from the desert they knew the tornado-like wind was coming. But those who were so wise to read the signs of the sky could not, or would not, read the signs of the times. If they had, they would have seen that the Kingdom of God was on the way.
Jesus used a very vivid illustration. He said, “When you are threatened with a law-suit, come to an agreement with your adversary before the matter comes to court, for if you do not you will have imprisonment to endure and a fine to pay.” The assumption is that the defendant has a bad case which will inevitably go against him. Every human being, Jesus implied, has a bad case in the presence of God; and if we are wise, we will make our peace with God while yet there is time.”
Jesus and all his great servants have always been obsessed with the urgency of time. There are some things we just cannot afford to put off; above all, making peace with God…while there is still time.
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Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. Pablo Picasso
“For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit.” You can always tell a whole lot about a person or, for that matter, a group of people by listening to the conversation. In some cases, the high price of gossip seems to take center stage at any given time and if we are not careful, there we are enveloped in a miasma of treacherous talk that does no good for any of us. We are then painfully reminded that the people who gossip with you will indeed, at a much later and convenient time, gossip about you. This is because, as the Scriptures of the day clearly remind us, that we encounter two diversely different kinds of people each and every day. Those who live in the flesh and those who live in the spirit. What are we to do?
“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion that he may live.” The solution is simple but not simplistic: it is simple in its formation but high on the charts in terms of operation and achievement. We must die to ourselves daily throughout the day really finding every opportunity to dig deeper and find the ways to true holiness and sacrifice so that we might find Jesus in every situation, especially the difficult ones. In this way we may find the joy of living the Christian faith in good times and in bad, in and out of season. “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”
Whether it is the parking space that someone “stole” from you or the lack of recognition for a job well done, at least to your humble standard but unseen or appreciated by those in authority over you, we have simply found that time and space to grow our faith and bear fruit. It is truly amazing! Open the possibilities for yourself this weekend and the new week not-so-far away. You will be very happy you did.
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Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. C. S. Lewis
“The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.” People who are in the greatest need of mercy and forgiveness, and truly acknowledge it, are the ones who recognize God’s love and presence when they see it. The “professional-religious class” in both the Old and New Testaments, were certainly too jaded and overwhelmed with their own sanctimonious perceptions to recognize wisdom, God’s presence, His love and mercy. It was this group of folks who were always judging, criticizing, condemning and even acting superior to others that stirred the words of today’s Psalm into action: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. The LORD redeems the lives of his servants; no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.”
Here is the remedy to haughty, senseless pride—pure and simple: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Every day we are alive on this planet, we are given plenty of opportunities to forgive, be merciful, practice patience and beg for God’s mercy. Instead, at times, we take the easy path and turn that humility into a raw grab for power over another, a quick salve just to feel better about ourselves, and an underhanded way to escape responsibility for our behavior and actions.
“…for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Today is yet another opportunity to be humble before God. Here are some practical ideas: 1. Strive to do your best without complaining; 2. Recognize and accept your own flaws; 3. Be grateful for everything, even the hard days; 4. Give credit and praise where it is due, especially to others around you; 5. Admit when you are wrong and ask forgiveness; and 6. Forgive and move on.
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It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes us as angels. St. Augustine
“Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.” This Feast of the Apostles, Sts. Simon and Jude is indeed a great day to reflect upon the intrinsic and deep relationship between what it means to have good, close and encouraging friends, the freedom it takes to maintain those friendships and the faith in Jesus that makes us friends with Him. Review once again what Jesus accomplished throughout the New Testament: The depth of love in his heart for friendship gushed over into the way he dealt with his enemies: with total and complete mercy. In many ways, you can tell how great a friend will be to the extent that he or she can forgive and show compassion. This is certainly true with everyone the Lord ever met, especially Judas, Peter and Thomas.
This element is underscored in the Gospel of today: Jesus knew that one of the friends-apostles He would choose would eventually betray Him, and still, in perfect freedom, he asked Him to follow Him, that is, be His friend anyway: “When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles…and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” The application for us today is simply stunning. In order for love to grow within any relationship there must be faith in the one who is love and the only one who will sustain that love until eternity, and especially for the grace both to forgive and show mercy. What is also remarkable is that love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion never leave us empty-handed or return with nothing. It is a classic “win-win” situation.
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“And friends are friends forever/If the Lord’s the Lord of them/And friends are friends forever/If the Lord’s the Lord of them/And a friend will not say never/’Cause the welcome will not end/Though it’s hard to let you go/In the Father’s hands we know/That a lifetime’s not too long/To live as friends.” Michael W. Smith
Have you ever noticed how many references to food we have in the Holy Scriptures? They frequently mention eating in various contexts all the while encouraging us to nourish our bodies and souls with nutritional and spiritual fare. Today is no exception. “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” What are firstfruits? This plural noun makes reference to the first agricultural produce of a season, assuming, thereby, that it is the best of the best of all someone could offer.
“It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden.” And today, once again, our favorite condiment (at least in the top five) makes yet another splendid appearance. Apart from being uniquely tasty and earthy, the very fact that the mustard seed is so small yet produces so much is yet another insightful metaphor and comparison about the Kingdom of God in which we long so desperately to live. Great things come in small and unassuming packages.
“It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” Anyone who has ever baked bread or loaves knows all too well what happens to the mixture once yeast is added. We can safely assume that a very little goes a very long way.
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It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; He wants us. He doesn’t demand our achievements; He demands our obedience. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is utterly glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self. Charles Colson
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Today we are served with one of those excellent morsels that deserves to be placed in the mind’s library, suited for memorization if at all possible. It is one of those deep and lasting promises that is comforting just at the right moments of our lives when things get away from us and leave us sighing in the dust. St. Paul assures us that no matter what happens all around us, everything will find a solution and turn out in ways that we could never have imagined. There is, however, a slight stipulation to all this. What we are about must be accompanied by our love for God and with the most sincere desire to follow Him and listen carefully to His will for our lives.
“For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” The one great constant in the universe is change. There can truly be infinitesimal debate over this. Just recall the events of life in the last twenty-four hours. Get ready for change because here it comes! And part of the nature of that change is that it is seldom what we expected. I guess that is what makes life interesting, intriguing at best. However, for believers, we view these shifts in the folds of reality as ways that God’s plan for us are revealed, not always easy, but always leading us to Heaven where our final destination lies. This is why so many are not comfortable with death because they are not comfortable with change and vice-versa. But somehow, some way, even without our understanding it, things always work out because that is the kind of God we have.
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I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn’t need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about? Henry Ford
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” What a challenge to reflect with the Scriptures today! And here is the demanding dare: either we just ignore what society, shopping stores, and malls will not allow us to deny about costumes and candy, or we launch into a hysterical tirade about how everything about this day is demonic, satanic and the most pathetic invitation to open the gates of hell, and for just one night. Really? So what do we do? Let’s start with the beautiful Scriptures of the day: “No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.”
I don’t seem to grow weary of telling and re-telling my friends and newly arrived family members about how exciting Halloween was for me as a child. My costume? Why, Yogi Bear, of course!! “I’m smarter than the average bear!” Either I’ve lost you on that reference or you’re sitting there with a huge grin on your face. I know I am. Halloween, like so many of our holidays, was engineered precisely for children. Whether it was birthdays, St. Valentine’s Day, Christmas or today’s enormous expression of color and calories, we either enjoyed the day and loved the pageantry of it of all, or we lived through our own children and innocent ones and still kept happiness alive if only in some small way.
Everything great and good begins small and unassuming which needs our constant attention. It is just like our faith which must lead us and sustain us into adulthood. Especially into adulthood. This is where we learn that the most frightening things in our lives are often not wearing costumes or doling out candy, but are true monsters, large and little, that can rob of us of happiness. Jesus loved children and He does, I believe He loves the child still inside each and every one of us. Go on, smile today. Say a prayer and talk to the Lord asking for all the treats that He has promised, especially eternal life. God bless the beasts and the children! “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Happy Halloween!
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Halloween wraps fear in innocence, as though it were a slightly sour sweet. Let terror, then, be turned into a treat. Nicholas Gordon
The set of Scriptures we have today are simply breathtaking and inspiring on the Feast of All Saints and critically necessary for us who are trying to “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) in the Lord Jesus without losing hope in the face of all the challenges we face.
Let’s start with the First Reading which is taken from the last book of the Bible, Revelation. I can’t think of another sacred book more controversial than this one; also known as the “Apocalypse.” This fascinating and mysterious text, ever since it was written, has been the topic of countless theories, teachings, movements, books, commentaries, and more recently, films and multi-media television series, episodes, and documentaries. Unfortunately, most of them have strayed from the Theological and Scriptural meaning of the intent of the Apostle John and have clearly done much more harm than good. Because of these wild theories, it seems as if every ten years or so, people have been trying to predict the end of the world every time a certain number lines up in a particular order or because of the discovery of some ingenious mathematical equation that spells horrible and imminent destruction. Remember the Year 2000 scare? Or do you recall the December 21, 2012 prediction based on some data from an ancient calendar chiseled on some huge stone that would run out of days on that date? People, just get a new rock!
G.K. Chesterton was so right when he wrote, “Though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as his own commentators.” St. John is clearly speaking to all Christians, all over the world, and all over time. “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” His great and marvelous vision for us, however, was also shaped by the immense suffering inflicted upon the early Church by the great persecutions by the Roman Empire. The Apostle himself was exiled to the island of Patmos from where he actually wrote the book of Revelation. It was that same political and military power that was complicit in the death of Jesus, who many thought would be the kind of leader that would overthrow these invaders and give His people a power beyond all imagining. But the real force and strength bestowed on all who would follow the Lord in every age is that, “Beloved, we are God’s children now.” And even though “what we shall be has not yet been revealed,” it most certainly will be revealed in the glorious resurrection of those who die believing in Christ. “They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”
This is all beautifully brought together with the proclamation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. As God’s children now and joyfully anticipating our own resurrection, we reasonably ask, “what do we do and how do we act?” Just as Moses in the Old Testament came down the mountain with the Law in the form of the Ten Commandments, Jesus walked up the mountain and fulfilled what the great Law-giver started and mapped out the way to survive “the time of great distress” for each and everyone of us. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, the meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and insulted. The Beatitudes create the blueprint of living a beautiful, Christian life. These eight blessings are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and respond to the natural desire that we all have for true and lasting happiness. This is how we become saints. “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ! Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium!” ~Saint John Paul the Great. The Beatitudes also proclaim the blessings and rewards that have already been secured for those who love Jesus. Just imagine, there’s a place in Heaven for you and it has your name on it. So once again, happy Feast Day everyone.
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If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire. Saint Catherine of Siena
Today, as many of us already know, is also referred as the Day of the Dead, and although that may seem remarkably somber and even morbid, it is the truth. Life is good but it certainly has a beginning and an end with a great filler in-between, and today we are called to reflect on the weighty and sobering aspects of its conclusion. The Scripture Readings for today may in fact sound familiar to some because they are the same, and many of the funeral selections are meant to give witness to the mystery of life and death so we may go forward in faith and love. Let’s take a look at a few gems:
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them.” We are made timely aware of the truth of things as we experience them, that is, that even in death, we are with the Lord who loves and comforts us especially in our moments of sorrow. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” No matter where our lives take us, the one constant is change, which includes the dark day of death but the constant presence is Jesus who never abandons those He loves. “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” What a remarkable statement that is being made here. Death is actually something we share with Jesus and because of that, we also share in His victory over death and all the contraptions that accompany our experience of it especially grief and dark isolation. “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Perhaps the most poignant and pertinent of all the passages comes to us from the Gospel today. We have been given the opportunity to reach out to Christ in each other everyday we have been alive. It is as if we have been either depositing or withdrawing from a spiritual bank account filled with love, kindness, and generosity. When the bank closes for good, we spend eternity based on the final reckoning. Be hopeful and generous today and pray for those who have died with those you love, knowing full well that they will be praying for you.
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Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The Reading on this fine Sunday has the potential of filling us with autumn anticipation of the great moments ahead. Moments that help us to put our lives in perspective and deepen our understanding of why we are here and what we are supposed to do while present in this world. Repentance for sins, interior conversion, and joyful participation in the invitation that Jesus wants to “come over to the house” are all aspects of the Christian life that belong together, each step leading to the next. Clearly, the greatest obstacle to admission to the Kingdom is no sin as such, but rather the arrogant attitude that refuses to grasp God’s hand when it is graciously and gladly extended. “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”
“And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” The problem here is not the same unattainability of our hearts’ deepest desires but rather, the fact that our imaginations and yearngings are not extravagant enough even to begin approaching the reality of what God wants to give us.
“We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” On this first Sunday of this brand new month, a time of remembrance, hope and giving thanks, our call to prayer is only rivaled by our call to repentance and patience with each other. It’s always a good time to pray and just be in God’s presence. How about now?
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“Let today be the day you stop being haunted by the ghost of yesterday. Holding a grudge & harboring anger/resentment is poison to the soul. Get even with people…but not those who have hurt us, forget them, instead get even with those who have helped us.” Steve Maraboli
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or sisters or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.” Now there have been literally hundreds of opinions and commentaries written that attempt to unlock the mystery and meaning of the beautiful Gospel passage we have today. Some will try to make comments about the social eating practices, pseudoreligions and self-righteousness of the people of that time. Others will comment on the aspects of humility and generosity, while still others make direct application to feeding the poor and hungry and doing things for people who could never repay you. Trust me, each of these angles certainly have great merit. A humble person does not have to wear a mask or put on a facade in order to look good to others who do not know who he really is. A giving person is clearly happier than a stingy one. Hypocrisy is a real disease. Excellent point.
“Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” However, there is evidence of deeper meaning present which is suggested by the context of the Readings, namely, The Banquet. In the Scriptures, there are many mentions of meals and celebrations which clearly point to the Heavenly Banquet after we finish this life. Thus, spiritual disease down here translates to a quarantine for the eternal celebration; neglecting the poor and starving now means we become spiritually impoverished and famished for Heaven later, and collecting rewards and accolades from the audiences of this world powerfully suggests there’ll be no applause, added benefit or honor in the next world that never ends.
“The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” RSVP is an initialism derived from the French phrase répondez s’il vous plaît, meaning “please respond” to require confirmation of an invitation. Concerning our spiritual lives then, to which we are so desperately dedicated, especially as we eye with great expectation the soon-arriving Advent Season, we must respond to the invitation placed before us every single day. Everything happens for a reason and today is no exception. How will you respond? Take some time this week and address the meaning of God’s invitation to you to enter Heaven. He is waiting.
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“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” Eckhart Tolle
“A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many.” Today, we have the conclusion of the three-part, truth-laden, and event-filled description of one powerful dinner attended by Jesus and many other characters which make up Chapter 14 of St. Luke’s Gospel. You may recall that earlier parts one and two were presented: the first involved the man inflicted and cured of dropsy and the second about people scrambling for the best seats at table, partly because of honor and partly because they would be served first. Part three is about excuses and why we make them.
Time for Vocabulary: Concupiscence – This term can refer to any intense form of human desire. It comes down to meaning anything that compels us to act or make a choice that is against the use of our reason and rational abilities. Concupiscence was born out of the Original Sin of disobedience and induces us to commit sins. St. John describes three kinds of this craving: 1 John 2:16: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, (1) sensual lust, (2) enticement for the eyes, and (3) a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
Now, let’s return to the dinner in the Gospel and the man who prepares the feast and invites many who is Jesus who came to save the lost in Israel and all of humanity. Jesus sent His Apostles to call and invite but many did not accept: “he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come…’ but one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.” Take a look at the excuses that are presented in light of the new word we learned today, Concupiscence: “I have purchased a field and must go to examine it” (3) a pretentious life; “I have purchased five yoke of oxen and am on my way to evaluate them” (2) enticement for the eyes; “I have just married a woman” (1) sensual lust. Please keep in mind that all these things are good in and of themselves, but remember that these are the “excuses” that are presented as more important than accepting the invitation of Christ to each of us. The sixth Commandment addresses our need for a pure heart “to see God,” while the ninth describes the struggle with carnal desires and the last Commandment about greed and the preoccupation over possessions. Given a talent by God is tantamount to being invited to dine with Him in the Kingdom. Which is precisely why we are called by the Readings today to focus our attention on how to live day by day using all that He has given us. Not only to discover His will for us, but also to love, live and build up the Body of Christ: “We, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.”
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“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” Edward R. Murrow
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was the penultimate metaphor of people trying to reach heaven without the assistance of God. That is precisely why they were thrown into a huge and overwhelming state of confusion where no one could understand each other. That scene prepared us for Pentecost and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which endow with the potential to understand everyone in their spheres of life because of the presence of God’s love in their lives. Thus the reference in the Gospel is made to the tower that someone starts to build but cannot finish.
“Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?” Ten thousand troops vs. twenty thousand troops? Is this a battle hard to call? The answer is absolutely “no,” but this passage is not about military exercises. It is about the impending confrontation that each of us has with death. Will we be ready? It is time for “peace terms.” Thus, the Gospel of today gives to all of us the specifics of those terms. Before the final call, you and I must be sufficiently detached from this world but at the same time attached to living in the world walking in the light of truth. How is that done? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Simply we are called to love in the power of the Holy Spirit which is freely given to those who love in the name of Jesus the Lord.
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“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” Some might agree with the assertion that a relationship is like a job. You have to work hard to get in it and you have to work even harder to stay in it. Whether or not that aligns with your own experiences with friends and family, one thing is for sure. Love does require work and some days are easier than others. Frustration and disappointment then makes it easier and easier to become judgmental and crass with those around us which is why we need to remember how much the Lord loves us into being and that forgiveness abounds. Today the Scriptures seem to underscore that perception. “Why then do you judge your brother or sister?” We could even go a little further: the depth and quality of our human relationships have much in common and directly correspond with our relationship with God and He with us.
“In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We all know how it feels when something is going wrong in a friendship, relationship or even with a close relative. Nobody is happy and nobody wins. The days looks grim and dark. But imagine how wonderful it feels when we make amends, ask forgiveness and restore things back to even a better level of love and respect. “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” and “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” That’s right, rejoice, we have our friend back. Peace has been restored and it is beautiful is it all comes from the Lord to whom we called. Let us do that today: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest, says the Lord.”
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“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” Albert Schweitzer
“What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your Stewardship because you can no longer be my steward.” We should ask God for wisdom on how to use the resources He gives us. He gives us resources like finances and time, talents in a culinary skill or musical ability, the spiritual gifts of encouragement or teaching, and we should commit ourselves to expending them according to His will so that He may be glorified. This is simply responsible stewardship.
“I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.” We have been given much, and God desires us to use what He has given to further His Kingdom and proclaim His glory. It’s what we were created to do. We are living sacrifices, giving the things God has given us in service to others, and in that we actually find life. Be thankful for what you have. How can we nurture and develop these talents? Based on the clever and wiley steward in the Gospel, let’s take another, more noble route and consider the following: 1. Be creative. 2. Be innovative. 3. Think differently and positively. 4. When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile. 5. Face your past without regret. 6. Handle your present with confidence. 7. Prepare for the future without fear. “Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him.”
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“In whatever way you can do so, according to the talents and gifts God has given you, you are to be salt, and light, and whatever part of the Body of Christ you were made to be. You need to tell us what’s going on with you so the rest of the Body (of which you are a part) can work together with you.” Chris Manion
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
History and background: Each Diocese has a cathedral. The cathedral Church in Rome is St. John Lateran. When the Emperor Constantine officially recognized Christianity, he made generous gifts to the church, one of which was a palace and grounds formerly belonging to the Laterani family. In 324, he added a large church on the grounds. Later a Baptistery was added and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. In subsequent years the entire edifice became known as St. John of the Lateran Basilica. It is our oldest church. Despite many fires, earthquakes and wars, it has survived; thereby, becoming a symbol of the endurability of Christianity. The observance of this feast connects our local church with the Church of Rome, which is the center of our unity. The dedication of any church recalls the heavenly Jerusalem that all church buildings symbolize.
The apostles are the pillars of the Church and Christ has given them the spiritual authority to teach and guide, which the Chair, cathedra, symbolizes in every cathedral. All this is seen within this magnificent structure.
The people are the Church, the living Body of Christ with many members: that much is clear, but that concept or expression of unlocking the mystery of the Church is not exclusive. We are also a “Sacramental” people who have enlisted art and architecture, literature and music to embody and describe tangibly, that is, to the touch and all the senses, what great mystery we not only celebrate but also actually see. The church building is not just a tent or skin in which the People of God gather, but in and of itself a great symbolic and sacramental importance. This is why we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of that first structure in Rome from which all the many millions of structures have been built and dedicated since then.
The Church building is meant to be the Temple. The First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel describes that. The Psalms, too were actually composed to be chanted and sung as people made their way to the Temple for worship. Today, just as in the Temple of the Old Testament, there are the areas that are set apart in Catholic Churches where we find the Tabernacle, where the Body and Blood of Jesus is conserved, as the “Holy of Holies,” the living presence of God. This is why we bow, genuflect upon entering this space. It also explains why many make the Sign of the Cross when passing by the Church from the outside. We also have altars predominantly and immediately seen in a foremost position. You see, the church building itself is not just a gathering place or hall. So why is there an altar? Because there is a sacrifice to be conducted. And those sacrifices are offered by priests. So you have the same Temple structure that clearly exhibits the elements that were first established in the First, or Old Covenant. The Church, in addition to being a structure that helps gather people, also reflects the mystery of the People as well: Tabernacle, altar, priests, sacrifice. So when the temple/church building is rightly ordered, then water will be “flowing out” for the renewal of the world. (First Reading)
The Church building is to symbolize the New Jerusalem. In Revelation, the vision describes a magnificent new heavenly city coming down to earth be complete and restore all humanity with God at the end of time. Thus, in addition to a gathering space, church buildings should attempt to draw us into another world, a heavenly experience like the jeweled walls of the New Jerusalem, with sparkling and vivid colors that are filled with signs and symbols of heavenly realities. We see figures of angels and Saints everywhere in the Church because they are citizens of Heaven, the New Jerusalem, and we join with them in singing praises to God:
“This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory, to share their prize of everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. With angels and archangels and the whole company of saints we sing our unending hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord…”
The Church building is meant to signal Noah’s Ark. Since the early installments of Church History, the ark was seen as a symbolic type of the Church. In the same way that Noah and his family were spared the destruction of both the spiritual and physical world around them, so too, are we safe and saved in the Church, the boat, as it were, atop the waters of Baptism. This is an-going occurrence in every age throughout the centuries and the Church is the on-going, continual and steady “rescue mission for humanity.” (Bishop Robert Barron) When we gather for Mass, we remain, close together, huddled for the Eucharist and waiting for “flood waters” to recede and then go out to the world to begin again.
“The Church is like Noah’s ark that was full of both clean and unclean animals. It must have had an unholy smell, and yet it was carrying eight persons to salvation. The world today is tearing up the photographs of a good society, a good family, a happy, individual personal life. But the Church is keeping the negatives. And when the moment comes when the world wants a reprint, we will have them.” —Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
It is also very interesting to go back to the Scriptures and examine the orders that God gave Noah to build what is most likely the most popular boat in human history found in Genesis, 6:19: “This is how you shall build it: the length of the ark will be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.” For St. Augustine and other early Church Fathers, these dimensions of the construction plan for the ark suggest a human body, specifically, the body of Christ: “For even its very dimensions, in length, breadth, and height, represent the human body in which He (Jesus) came as it had been foretold. For the length of the human body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is six times its breadth from side to side, and ten times its depth or thickness, measuring from back to front.” The City of God, Book 15
The Church building is meant to symbolize the Mystical Body of Christ. It’s really amazing, when you stop and think about it, so much of both the human and spiritual dimensions of our lives actually happen inside the Church building itself. New life is always being announced with the smell and sound of babies at baptism, children sing and serve Mass, teenagers are confirmed, marriages are celebrated and yes, when the circle of life is completed, there we are again, at the Church where it all spiritually began, tearfully saying goodbye and “until we met again.” It is more than a theater stage or a meeting hall. It is Life.
From life’s start to finish and all the wonderful episodes in between, being in the Church building comprises the place and time in which we hear and experience what some have speculated are three basic sentences that summarize all of Christianity: Please, Thank You and I’m Sorry. And just like the Temple, in both the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem, where there is a convergence of costly, precious and holy stones, so too, the Mystical Body is made up of living stones — the people who are transformed by Grace, the Word of God and the Food of the Eucharist day after day, age after age. We become that New Temple.
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“The Church is the Body of Christ, and as such it is both heavenly and earthly. The Church is the communion of saints, and it includes as members both angels and shepherds – cherubim and seraphim, and you, and me.” Scott Hahn
“Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward…” There is something sad and almost pathetic about the attitude that seems to surround some people who choose not to believe in the afterlife, Heaven, our an eternal reward. They go around, wherever they look, to inject such doubt that it cannot possibly be sustainable in the recipe for a happy life (such as what we see today in the Gospel and perhaps our day to day depending on our own life situation). What they produce is foolish, as if they had some hidden and mystical knowledge of the world. Wouldn’t you like to have seen the face of Jesus as they spoke to Him? I am sure it was kind, gentle and patient. It is certainly a great reminder for each of us in similar situations.
“They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” What will it be like when we die? It is safe to say that this a question of both the young and the old, the believer and the doubter alike. This is why we are not only called to listen to Jesus but also to follow Him through the dark and threatening moments of our lives but also bright and hopeful ones, too. “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.”
As we near the memory-producing moments of Thanksgiving not so long away, let us make an effort to imagine with the Lord of the great promises and joy waiting for all of us. It will ease the fleeting moments of suffering which will past quickly under the bright lights of eternity that have been promised.
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“I can only imagine what it will be like/When I walk, by your side.
I can only imagine what my eyes will see/When you face is before me.
I can only imagine/I can only imagine. Surrounded by You glory/What will my heart feel/Will I dance for you Jesus, Or in awe of You be still/Will I stand in your presence/Or to my knees will I fall. Will I sing hallelujah/Will I be able to speak at all/I can only imagine, I can only imagine.” Bart Marshall Millard
Question #1: What is the relationship between Wisdom and Gratitude?
From the World of Science: “Two important implications of these findings
are that wisdom entails an appreciation of life and its experiences,
especially the growth opportunities that may result from negative events, and that there may be substantial differences between male and female pathways to wisdom.” Study by the National Institutes of Health in 2013
From the World of Psychology: “Gratitude is something that can be nurtured and may go towards the development of greater wisdom.” Study by Gluck and König of Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt in Austria in 2014
From the Spiritual World: “Learn, too, to be grateful. May all the wealth of Christ’s inspiration have its shrine among you; now you will have instruction and advice for one another, full of wisdom, now there will be psalms, and hymns, and spiritual music, as you sing with gratitude in your hearts to God. Whatever you are about, in word and action alike, invoke always the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, offering your thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:16-17
Question #2: What is the relationship between the Veteran and The Lord Jesus?
Both rendered remarkable service to the cause closest to their hearts; both sacrificed what they had and who they were; both of their sacrifices had tremendous and remarkable effects on many; However, Jesus is the only one in history whose sacrifice, death and Resurrection would touch the entire course of human history and by that virtue, every human being who would ever live. We say with distinction and deep gratitude about our Veterans that “All gave some and some gave all.” Jesus gave all so all could have everything.
Question #3: What are you going to do today?
In the Gospel today, we hear the most wonderful and hopeful words of Christ: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Faith is everything and it must be fed daily! Today we remember, celebrate, and pray for those who have served and died defending our country by which you and I are free to worship and live in a free republic. We fundamentally thank Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross by which all have the opportunity to live in Heaven forever, including those who, like Him, emptied themselves on the cross of battlefields and combat grounds.
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“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” Abraham Lincoln
“So should it be with you.” Although it may be debatable to say that each of us begins our day with both reasonable and unreasonable expectations, we can reasonably expect that: The day will have the same amount of hours; that there will most likely be enough ups and down to keep it interesting; and that one way or another it will have an end. Unreasonable or unrealistic expectations always seem to involve the behavior of some people. We might hold hope for that particular person who has made our day harder than it has to be, to somehow make a remarkable change in their course of action. This, as we know, is a recipe for deep disappointment.
“God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them.” There can be no disappointment when we look at the expectations we can expect from our Lord. He has made us out of love with every ounce of good intention and deep hope that exists in the universe. Therefore, not only can we expect the goodness placed deep within our souls to surface with practice and determination, but we can also expect great help from God to be good, and stay that way until He comes again.
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“Many people feel so pressured by the expectations of others that it causes them to be frustrated, miserable and confused about what they should do. But there is a way to live a simple, joy-filled, peaceful life, and the key is learning how to be led by the Holy Spirit, not the traditions or expectations of man.” Joyce Meyer