Friday, February 24, 2017

“Living together as a couple is an art, a patient, beautiful and fascinating journey . . . which can be summarized in three words: please, thank you and sorry.”

"But today, Father, it is difficult… Of course it is difficult! That is why we need the grace, the grace that comes from the sacrament! The sacraments are not decorations in life – what a beautiful marriage, what a beautiful ceremony, what a beautiful banquet…But that is not the sacrament of marriage. That is a decoration! Grace is not given to decorate life but rather to make us strong in life, giving us courage to go forwards! And without isolating oneself but always staying together. Christians celebrate the sacrament of marriage because they know they need it! They need it to stay together and to carry out their mission as parents. “In joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health”. This is what the spouses say to one another during the celebration of the sacrament and in their marriage they pray with one another and with the community. Why? Because it is helpful to do so? No! They do so because they need to, for the long journey they are making together: it is a long journey, not for a brief spell but for an entire life!" – Pope Francis

Gospel Text: (MK 10:1-12)
Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan.
Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom,
he again taught them.
The Pharisees approached him and asked,
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"
They replied,
"Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them,
"Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate."
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."

When I hear people say things about the Church’s teaching on the family and marriage such, “The Church must modernize itself”, “The Church must bring itself up to date”, “The Church must keep up with society” I cannot but remember that at Jesus’ time the Jews were also discussing “modernizing” family life and Jesus told them they had wandered from God’s plan. He reminded them of God’s plan for the family. The mission of the Church is not to keep up with society; the mission of the Church is to do like Jesus, to remind people of God’s plan. And even if 10% or 20% or 90% of people wander away from God’s plan, we have compassion on them and want to help them in any way we can, but the Church cannot be unfaithful to God’s plan simply to be popular. The Church teaches that those who remarry civilly without having had their first marriage annulled or those who are in any sinful relationship may not receive Holy Communion as long as they are in that situation. This is because their lifestyle is a direct contradiction to the unity signified by the Eucharist, and people would be led into error and confusion about the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Everyone recognizes the difficulty and cross that exists in the lives of those in irregular situations and we want to lighten that burden in any way we can and show them compassion.

There are three people in the Sacrament of Marriage, the couple and Jesus. That is why the Sacrament of Marriage is for life, and not just for a time. So when people say that the Church must modernize I ask them to reflect on what the Sacrament of Marriage really is. Could it be that now, as at the time of Jesus, society has wandered from God’s plan and the Church like Jesus must remind society of God’s plan for marriage and the family? 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

If conversion makes no improvements in a man's outward actions then I think his 'conversion' was largely imaginary. - C. S. Lewis: (1898 –1963: was a British novelist, poet, & academic)

Scripture Text: (SIR 5:1-8)
Rely not on your wealth;
say not: "I have the power."
Rely not on your strength
in following the desires of your heart.
Say not: "Who can prevail against me?"
or, "Who will subdue me for my deeds?"
for God will surely exact the punishment.
Say not: "I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?"
for the Most High bides his time.
Of forgiveness be not overconfident,
adding sin upon sin.
Say not: "Great is his mercy;
my many sins he will forgive."
For mercy and anger alike are with him;
upon the wicked alights his wrath.
Delay not your conversion to the LORD,
put it not off from day to day.
For suddenly his wrath flames forth;
at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.
Rely not upon deceitful wealth,
for it will be no help on the day of wrath.

Today's first reading from Mass contains a list of common excuses that people use to justify their sinful behaviors or to put off change. Lest we assume that since we've already experienced conversion we're above all this, let's reflect on the ways that our old thought patterns might still be entrapping us.

The idea that "Anything's okay as long as it doesn't hurt someone," or that "It's okay to disregard an inconvenient or unpleasant law or teaching of the Church because God understands and he'll forgive me," carries with it the arrogant presumption that sins are not always sinful and that they don't always produce bad consequences. Do you rationalize away a Church teaching about faith and morals by saying that it doesn't apply to you? If so, this trap is crushing you so slowly and subtly that you don't even notice. Delaying repentance holds us back from wonderful growth and spiritual healing.

Do you procrastinate because change is uncomfortable? Do you put off whatever seems humiliating, impossible, or less beneficial than your old ways? Old behavior patterns feel like cozy blankets, raggedy and full of holes, but familiar and valuable. Even when we're aware of being smothered by them or of hurting others with them, we don't know what the new blanket would feel like, so we hang onto the old. Or we don't know how to get the new blanket, so we don't really try. The old one has ensnared us; it's smothering our souls and covering our ears so that we fail to hear the loving, beckoning call of Christ.

It's a free-will decision.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated.

There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing. - Archbishop Fulton Sheen: (1895 –1979: was an American bishop (later archbishop) of the Catholic Church known for his preaching and especially his work on television and radio.)

Gospel Text: (MT 16:13-19)
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles.

Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.

When Jesus asked the Apostles: "Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?"
Simon replied: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

However, St. Peter was not without faults. He was rash and reproached often by Christ. He had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemani instead of praying, as Jesus had asked him to do. He also denied knowing Jesus three times after Christ’s arrest.

Today we thank the Lord for the gift of his work, his Church founded on Peter, his teaching through the Pope, his giving of the Sacraments, and we ask for the grace to hold fast to his continual confession. And we pray in a special way for the 266th Peter, Pope Francis, that his faith may never fail, that he may strengthen us his brothers and sisters with Jesus’ teaching, and help us all to confess Jesus in the world to be the Messiah and Son of God. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jesus' Economics: "The First Will Be Last and the Last First"

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. - We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” ― Mother Teresa: (1910 – 1997: Catholic nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata India)

Gospel Text: (MK 9:30-37)
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise."
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
"If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me."

The world sees things differently - The world loves winners. It has no time for losers. The brightest student gets the scholarship and the great job offers. The best athlete is honored with fame and fortune. The effective manager rises in rank very quickly. Even in the church, the intelligent and able administrator and fundraiser becomes a monsignor or bishop quickly.

The world has no time for those who come last, who aren’t lucky or bright or wealthy or successful. In today’s gospel, Jesus invites us to ask ourselves, shall we act in the way the world does?

If honoring the best is meant to inspire and encourage us to imitate them, then it’s good. But if honoring only the best makes us forget the weak and those who have fallen through the cracks, then we fail in generosity. And we forget that before God, we are all weak and sinful, but he treats us all in the same way.

There’s a commercial on TV that starts by saying: “In this world, there are winners… and losers”. And that is true. There are persons that the world sees as failures. Jesus, however, is telling us that with God, there’s no such thing as a loser.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. The generosity of God is the same for all of us. With him, there are no losers, because he loves each of us the same.

If he can be so generous to us despite all our failures and sins, should we not be the same towards others?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Facts are God's arguments; we should be careful never to misunderstand or pervert them.

We often think of great faith as something that happens spontaneously so that we can be used for a miracle or healing. However, the greatest faith of all, and the most effective, is to live day by day trusting Him. It is trusting Him so much that we look at every problem as an opportunity to see His work in our life. --Rick Joyner: ((born 1949: heads Morning Star Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi)

Gospel Text: (MK 9:14-29)
As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John
and approached the other disciples,
they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.
Immediately on seeing him,
the whole crowd was utterly amazed.
They ran up to him and greeted him.
He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?"
Someone from the crowd answered him,
"Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit.
Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.
I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so."
He said to them in reply,
"O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you? Bring him to me."
They brought the boy to him.
And when he saw him,
the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions.
As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around
and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father,
"How long has this been happening to him?"
He replied, "Since childhood.
It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus said to him,
"'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!"
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering,
rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it,
"Mute and deaf spirit, I command you:
come out of him and never enter him again!"
Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out.
He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, "He is dead!"
But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private,
"Why could we not drive the spirit out?"
He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

In our Gospel reading today, the disciples have failed in ministry, and the father of the possessed boy is wondering if Jesus can grant his request. Both situations are good examples of why our own faith wavers.

Like the disciples, we see failures as reason to doubt our ability to do the works of God. Like the father, we wonder if God really has enough power or enough compassion or even enough time to notice us and answer our prayers.

In the father's response to Jesus, why did he say "if"? How often do we pray with an "if" attitude? Can Jesus help us whenever we ask him to? Of course he can -- if what we seek is within God's will. Ahh, but there's another "if"! So let's turn the "if" onto ourselves. IF we know God, we know his will (it's clearly explained in the scriptures and Church teachings) and we only want what he wants. Right?

Do we doubt Christ's compassion? Do we think he's not kind and caring enough to answer our prayers? Of course he is: God is Love, and no matter how undeserving we are, he is good to us. It's impossible for him to be uncaring. Even his discipline is good for us, although we might not think so at the time. Therefore, whenever we pray, we should say to him: "Thank you for being so good to me. I do believe; help me to overcome any unbelief that's still within me."

Whenever the "IF" word shows up in our prayers, we should ask ourselves why. Are we focused on the evidence of potential disaster or on the goodness of God? If our eyes are not on Jesus and all the good that he's already done for us, our prayers will be answered in unexpected ways and we won't realize what he's done. We'll miss his solutions to our problems! Or at least we'll be miserable waiting for it to happen.

Understand what Jesus meant by: "This kind of spirit you can only drive out by prayer." Surely the disciples had prayed as they tried to cast out the demon. Even a simple "Get out!" with the authority given to us by Jesus is a genuine prayer. What did the disciples do wrong?

Our prayers are merely noise if we're disbelieving that God truly cares. To prevent wavering between belief and unbelief, our prayers must be more than words. Our prayers need to be a way of life.

We cannot spend a few minutes a day talking to God and then expect to feel his presence when a crisis hits. We have to remain consciously aware, moment by moment, of his constant love, his constant nearness, his constant guidance.

True prayer is a life lived connected to Jesus, imitating Jesus, and being the presence of Jesus for others. In a lifestyle of prayer, our hearts are constantly turning to God, even while our thoughts are busy with the tasks of the day.

To develop this lifestyle, pray each day: "Jesus, I do believe that you care about me; help me to keep my eyes on you."