Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They begged him to leave their area – What about you?

"The truth may hurt for awhile - and usually does - But it heals forever - without fail"

Gospel text (Mt 8:28-34): When Jesus reached Gadara on the other side, He was met by two demoniacs who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared to pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, «What do you want with us, you, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the time?». At some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged him, «If you drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs». Jesus ordered them, «Go». So they left and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. The men in charge of them ran off to the town, where they told the whole story, also what had happened to the men possessed with the demons. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their area.

Today, we are given to contemplate a sad contrast. “Contrast” because we admire the power and divine majesty of Jesus Christ, whom the demons submit voluntarily to (a signal that the Kingdom of the Heavens has reached us). But, at the same time, we deplore the narrowness and stinginess which the human heart is capable of, when refusing the bearer of Good News: «The whole town went out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their area» (Mt 8:34). And “sad” because «He himself, who is the true light (...) came to his own, and his own did not receive him» (Jn 1:9-11).

More contrast and more confusion when we pay attention to the fact that man is free and this freedom has the “power to halt” God's infinite power. Or we can put it another way: the infinite divine powers reach as far as our “powerful” freedom allows it. And this is so because God mainly loves us with a Father's love. As a Father, we should not be surprised that He is so respectful of our freedom: He does not impose his love upon us, He just proposes it to us.

God, with infinite wisdom and goodness, providentially rules the Universe while respecting our freedom; even when this freedom turns its back on him and does not want to accept his will. Contrary to what it may seem, He does not let the world out of his hands: God always brings everything to a good conclusion, despite all hindrances we can raise against him. In fact, these hindrances are, first of all, turning against us.

However, we can affirm, «in the face of human freedom God has wanted to become “impotent”. And it can be said God pays for the great gift [our freedom] given to a being created in his image and likeness [man]» (John Paul II). God pays!: if we throw him out, He obeys and goes away. He pays, but we lose. On the other hand, we do well when we respond like the Virgin Mary: «I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said» (Lk 1:38).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unity is strength

We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. (G.K. Chesterton)

Gospel text (Mt 16:13-19): Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked his disciples, «Who do people say the Son of Man is?». They said, «For some of them you are John the Baptist, for others Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets». Jesus asked them, «But you, who do you say I am?». Peter answered, «You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God». Jesus replied, «It is well for you, Simon Barjona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And now I say to you: You are Peter (or Rock) and on this rock I will build my Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven».

We celebrate today the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. As we consider the character of both these early founders of our church, we are impressed by the fact that they as individual people are not the source of the goodness that flowed from and through them; that strength and goodness was God’s gift they would experience throughout the course of their magnificent service to others. Both men had huge flaws: Peter was impetuous, strong-willed, and often obtuse to the message that Jesus was trying to give him; Paul started off as a persecutor of the church. Seemingly not a very auspicious beginning for both of them!

In their lifetime Peter and Paul did not work so closely together. Peter was called directly by Jesus and given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:16-18). He is portrayed in icons carrying the keys. Paul, on the other hand, probably never met Jesus face to face. His inspiration and his style of presenting the gospel came from visions and charismatic experiences. He is portrayed in icons carrying either a sword or a book. Peter and Paul were so different that Peter was surnamed the Apostle of the Jews and Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles.

If Peter and Paul did not agree in life, they did agree in death. In the early church there was a tendency to splinter into various factions, each faction claiming to follow the leadership of one of the chief apostles or missionaries. This was one of the reasons why Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians were breaking up into followers of Paul, followers of Peter, and followers of Apollos. Paul reminds them strongly that these human leaders are all equally servants of the one Christ. Christ, therefore, should be their focus.
If division among believers was a problem in the days of Paul, it is even more so today. Like the Christians of Corinth, Christians today are divided, variously recognizing the absolute authority of John Calvin, John Wesley or Pope Benedict 16. We are like the weak fingers of Linus that cannot embrace one another and unite into a formidable punch. Disunity of Christians is a scandal that weakens the Christian witness to the world. How can Christian churches preach love and unity, forgiveness and reconciliation to the world when they themselves are living in disunity, unable to forgive and reconcile themselves?

Even within the walls of the Catholic Church, there are visible cracks of disunity. Today, the faithful are quick to label themselves either as conservatives or liberals. Conservatives, who often identify with the institutional authority of Peter, wage war against liberals; and liberals, who identify with the charismatic vision of Paul, wage war against conservatives. By combining the feasts of the apostles Peter and Paul, the church is inviting all her children to look beyond the conservative-liberal divide and discover a deeper level of unity in Christ. The church of Christ needs the rock of Peter’s institutional leadership as well as the vitality of Paul’s charismatic vision. Christian unity, like the unity of Peter and Paul, is not a unity in uniformity but a unity in diversity. Today the church reminds us that, even though as individuals and local communities some will prefer the style of Peter and others that of Paul, we should not let that divide us since we are all, first and foremost, followers of the one Lord Jesus Christ and children of one Father, God.

What do their lives say to us, today? That we, too, are called by Jesus into service and that our service, however small and meager it appears to us, is the gift of God as well as an ongoing invitation to us to follow Jesus as his disciples today in our difficult circumstances. Just like Peter and Paul, we are witnesses for Christ to those we come in contact with. Our “witnessing” probably will not lead to our cruel martyrdom as Peter and Paul’s (and Jesus’), but we too can “pour ourselves out” as Jesus (and Peter and Paul) did. We can, like them “fight the good fight” and, most importantly, “keep the faith.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Once all struggles are grasped, miracles are possible

We cannot know whether we love God, although there may be strong reasons for thinking so, but there can be no doubt about whether or not we love our neighbor. -- ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX

Am 2:6-10, 13-16
Thus says the LORD:
For three crimes of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke my word; because they sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way. Son and father go to the same prostitute, profaning my holy name. Upon garments taken in pledge they recline beside any altar; and the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the house of their god.

Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, who were as tall as the cedars, and as strong as the oak trees. I destroyed their fruit above, and their roots beneath. It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and who led you through the desert for forty years, to occupy the land of the Amorites.

Beware; I will crush you into the ground as a wagon crushes when laden with sheaves.
Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong man shall not retain his strength;
The warrior shall not save his life, nor the bowman stand his ground;
The swift of foot shall not escape, nor the horseman save his life. And the most stouthearted of warriors shall flee naked on that day, says the LORD.

God minces no words. The leaders of Israel will be punished for trampling on the weak and the just. As they have crushed the needy, so now they face ruin.

Amos calls these crimes. Our words are softer. Predatory loans or long-term unemployment are problems discussed in polite tones. “What a mess” gets said of immigration policy while chewing the hamburgers that undocumented workers have made. The wars continue, but we have switched channels. We create systems like labyrinths that few understand where no one seems to be responsible for all that is lost. The urgency of people struggling to hang on goes mute. Without a fiery defender, those in greatest need disappear from the screen. Secure in our helplessness, we sit and sigh.

Like the prophet, Jesus sounds a thunderous wake-up call. His words are not balanced or discreet. No time remains to dally or debate. On the move in faith we enter the battle for the living. How we answer this call must arise from each one’s heart. But this is for sure: God wants us as combatants in the struggle to renew the world. There are no excuses or hiding places that can rescind this call.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day: 'Be a Man!'

" A man's potential can best be seen when he is willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause."

"Men are created to be protectors, supporters and providers. We are, by definition, givers. The way men relate to God, is different from a woman. We live in a world of gender-confusion where masculine behavior has been anathematized and ridiculed as an exhibition of testosterone. I challenge men to give themselves to a higher cause.

First, a man needs to be dedicated to a daily discipline of prayer out of which his service comes. There can be no more excuses for not praying. To be a man of God requires that we spend our regular time before the Lord (i.e. Adoration). "Scripture tells us to be still and know that he is God.”

In that silence we have to deal with our own demons. Just as Jesus went into the desert and encountered the devil, our quiet times are when we confront our issues. "There, in our own desert, we recognize that we need the Lord. We become vulnerable, which is the key to our surrender and discover that when we are weak, we are strong. At that point we choose to place God in charge of our life.

A man has to come to the point of realizing that when he surrenders himself totally to God, good will come out of it. This is ultimately an act of trust.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." A woman's call to entrust her life is connect with a unique call for her husband - he must be willing to lay down his life for her. Again, it is his call to sacrifice.

If you still have your Dad with you, love him and let him know how important he is to you. Together, let us celebrate the Gift of Fatherhood and kneel before the Father from whom every family in Heaven and on Earth is named in deep gratitude.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

He who would travel happily must travel light

If you have much, give of your wealth, if you have little; give of your heart (Arab proverb)

Gospel text (Mt 6:19-23): Jesus said to his disciples: «Do not store up treasure for yourself here on earth where moth and rust destroy it, and where thieves can steal it. Store up treasure for yourself with God, where no moth or rust can destroy nor thief come and steal it. For where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.

»The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eyes are sound, your whole body will be in the light. If your eyes are diseased your whole body will be in darkness. Then, if your light has become darkness, how dark will be the darkest part of you!
Today, the Lord tells us that «the lamp of the body is the eye» (Mt 6:22). St. Thomas claims that when speaking of the eye Jesus refers to man's intentions. When our intention is right, luminous, pointing to God, all our actions are bright, resplendent; but when your intention becomes darkness. How dark will be the darkest part of us! (cf. Mt 6:23).

If we are malicious or wicked, our intention may not be straight, but more often than not this is just because we are lacking some good sense. We live as if we would have been born to pile up riches and we could think of nothing else. To make money, to buy, to possess, to have. We want others to admire us, or perhaps to envy us. We deceive one another, we suffer, we worry, feel pain, and still cannot find the desired happiness we search for. But Jesus makes us another proposal: «Store up treasure for yourself with God, where no moth or rust can destroy nor thieves come and steal it» (Mt 6:20). Heaven is the barn where good actions are stored, and this sure is a forever lasting treasure.

Let us be sincere and honest with ourselves: where are our efforts directed to, which are our endeavors? True, good Christians must honestly study and labor to make a living, to raise a family, to insure their future and a peaceful life when old, and they must also work with an aim to help others … All this is, indeed, a characteristic of a good Christian. But, if what you are looking for, is to have more and more all the time, placing your heart in those riches, forgetting any good action, drawing a blank upon the fact we are here just provisionally, that our life is just a passing shadow, is it not true —then— that our eye is in darkness, «how dark will be the darkest part of you!» (Mt 6:23).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong

It's not an easy prayer. It's not a prayer that pretends and it's also a prayer that requires our lives change. It requires that we become different sorts of people, but it acknowledges that that will only happen when we learn how to depend freely and lovingly on the God whose made himself Our Father.

Gospel text (Mt 6:7-15): Jesus said to his disciples, «When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do, for they hold that the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him.

»This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts just as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us. Do not bring us to the test but deliver us from the evil one’. If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either».
Today, Jesus proposes us a great and difficult target: to forgive those who offend us. And He establishes a very reasonable measure: ours: «If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either» (Mt 6:14-15). In another place, He had already given us the Golden Rule of human coexistence: «In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this sums up the Law and the Prophets» (Mt 7:12).

We want God to forgive us and would like others to forgive us too; but, on the other hand, we seem quite reluctant to do it ourselves. To apologize is kind of difficult; but to forgive is even more so. Should we be humbler, it should not be so difficult; but our pride makes it much harder. This is why we could establish the following equation: the humbler, the easier; the prouder, the more difficult. This will give us a clue to find out our degree of humility.

Furthermore, God's forgiveness is total; it gets as far as oblivion. We tend to forget pretty soon the favors we receive, but not so much so with offenses... If married couples knew how to forget them, they would avoid, and probably overcome, many family dramas.

Let us hope the Mother of mercy helps us understanding our fellow men and forgiving them totally.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Humility can not be learned in books, it must be lived, it must be felt

There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in - that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.
(Mother Teresa)

Gospel text (Mt 6:1-6.16-18): Jesus said to his disciples, «Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have been already paid in full. If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.

»When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you. When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so people can see they are fasting. I tell you this: they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearance or for people, but for your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret will reward you».

Today, Jesus invites us to act always for the glory of God, to please the Father, as this is why we have been created for. This is how the Catechism of the Church confirms it: «God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love and to offer all creation back to him». This is the meaning of our life and our honor: to be liked by the Father, to please God. This is the example Christ left with us.

Dishonesty of intention would be especially grave and ridiculous if happening in actions such as prayer, fasting or alms, as these are pious and charitable deeds, that is, deeds that —per se— are due to the virtue of religion or deeds we carry out for the love of God.

Therefore, «be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven» (Mt 6:1). How could we please God if, to start with, we are trying to be seen in order to be praised —first of all— by others? It is not that we have to hide from our fellow men so that they will not see us, but it is rather a question, in the first place, of directly addressing our good deeds to God. It does not matter, nor is it bad others may see us: on the contrary, we may give them example with the coherent testimony of our deeds.

But what it does matter —and a lot!— is that we can see God behind our deeds. We must, therefore, carefully examine our true intentions in whatever we are doing, and see that we are not seeking our own interest, if we are really trying to serve the Lord» (St. Gregory the Great).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier." (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

Gospel text (Mt 5:43-48): Jesus said to his disciples, «You have heard that it was said: Love your neighbor and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For He makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and He gives rain to both the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? For your part you shall be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect».

Today, Christ invites us to love. To love without measure, which is the measure of true Love. God is Love, «who makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good, and gives rain to both the just and the unjust» (Mt 5:45). And man, God's spark, has to keep on struggling every day to resemble him: «So that you may be children of your Father in Heaven». Where can we find Christ's face? On others, on our nearest fellow men. It is very easy to feel sorry for the starving children in Ethiopia when we watch them on TV, or for all those immigrants that every day arrive to our shores. But, what about those at home? What about our co-workers? And what about that distant relative living alone and whom we could pay a visit to, to keep her some company? How do we treat others? How do we love them? What specific deeds of service have we towards them, every day?

It is certainly very easy to love those who love you. But our Lord is urging us to go a step further, «If you love those who love you, what is special about that?» (Mt 5:46). To love our enemies! To love those we know —for sure— will never return our affection, or our smiles, or that favor. Simply because they ignore us. A Christian, truly Christian, should not love “in an interested” way; it is not enough to give a piece of bread or our alms to the kid at the traffic lights. We have to give ourselves to the others. When dying on the Cross, Christ forgave those who crucified him. No reproach, no complaint, not even a wry face...

To love without expecting anything in return. When it comes to loving we need no calculators. Perfection is to love with no measure. And we hold perfection in our hands amidst the world, amidst our daily chores. By doing what we should in every instance, not what we should like to. God's Mother, at the wedding of Cana, in Galilee, realizes the guests have no more wine. And she steps in. And she asks the Lord to make a miracle. Let us beg him today for the miracle of finding it out in the needs of our own neighbors.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being “Meek” does not mean being “Weak”

Some people think its holding on that makes one strong – sometimes it’s letting go

Gospel text (Mt 5:38-42): Jesus said to his disciples, «You have heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you this: do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other. If someone sues you in court for your shirt, give your coat as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give when asked and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow from you».

Jesus, in fulfilling the Scriptures, is once again telling us that He is teaching us that we are to live with a different spirit than what humans may naturally do in reacting to situations in life. The reading reminds us that God’s will needs to be fulfilled – even though we cannot see the reason why. Mary, Jesus’s mother and our role model, said, “Thy will be done.” She didn’t understand the reason why…but she lived the life she understood God wanted her to live. Every day we need to remind ourselves that we are to do as Mary did….live the life that we understand God wishes us to lead.

Nevertheless, truth should always accompany forgiveness. We do not just forgive because we feel helpless or gravely embarrassed. Quite often, the expression “to turn the other cheek” is misinterpreted as waiving our legitimate rights. Certainly, nothing of the sort. To turn the other cheek means to denounce or question formally, with a peaceful but categorical gesture, whoever has done the injustice committed; it is like saying: «You slapped me on the cheek, now what, you want to slap me on the other too? Do you really think you are behaving rightly?». Jesus replied serenely to the high priest's rude servant: «If I said something wrong testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?» (Jn 18:23).

We can, therefore, see what our Christian behavior must be: not to retaliate, but to stay firm; to be open to forgiveness but clearly say things. It is certainly not an easy task to accomplish, but it is the only way to put a stop to violence and show the world the Divine Grace it is lacking of, so often. St. Basil advises us: «Believe me and you will forget the offences and insults you get from your fellow man. You will see how differently you will be named; he will be called angry and violent while you will be cited as meek and peaceful. One day, he will repent of his violence, but you will never regret your meekness».

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Heart of a Compassionate Mother

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”--Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Yesterday was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is appropriate that we celebrate the heart of His mother the following day.

When I think of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I always think of a mother’s heart. That special bond that a mother has with her children is one that I, as a man, could never fully understand. But I see it every day in the hearts of all mothers. And Mary, as the Mother of the Church, the Mother of all Christians, has that very special bond with all believers. (Whether they realize it or not may be another matter.) But the Immaculate Heart of Mary beats not only for her child, Jesus. It beats for you and me, too. A heart filled with love and compassion. The heart of our Mother.

When we truly realize the love the Immaculate Heart of Mary holds for us, what she endured in her life, and the harsh pain she felt as she stood before the cross and witnessed her Son brutally put to death for our sins, there is an intense sense of humility and gratitude that flows from the depths of our own hearts.

In order to avoid misunderstanding, it is necessary to mention that there are some who would accuse Catholics of worshipping the Blessed Mother. However, such is not the case, for we worship the Triune God alone. Yet Catholics give to Mary a place of great honor as the Mother of God. We love her for all that she has done, for it is through her that our Savior came into the world and salvation became a reality. Catholics fully embrace that Tradition recorded in Sacred Scripture in which we hear Mary say: "From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name" (Lk 1:48-49).

Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation (Marialis Cultus), reminds us devotion to the Virgin Mary is an integral aspect of Christian worship: "This devotion [to the Virgin Mary] fits . . . into the only worship that is rightly called 'Christian,' because it takes its origin and effectiveness from Christ, finds its complete expression in Christ, and leads through Christ in the Spirit to the Father. . . . And the increased knowledge of Mary's mission has become joyful veneration of her and adoring respect for the wise plan of God, who has placed within His family (the Church), as in every home, the figure of a Woman, who in a hidden manner and in a spirit of service watches over that family 'and carefully looks after it until the glorious day of the Lord.'"

Yes, our Mother, the sweet Virgin is ever-vigilant and watches over her family of humankind, that they may not stray from the path of Love her Son has set before us. She is the "Woman clothed with the Sun" who, illumined in the divine light of her Son, beckons us toward our eternal salvation by urging us with motherly care to embrace with mind, heart and soul the Truth, the Way, and the Life (Jn 14:6) that is Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The heart has reasons that reason does not understand

Today we celebrate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Jesus is a symbol for the great love Jesus has for us. It seems fitting on this day that we read passages of Scripture about the Good Shepherd.

Gospel text (Lk 15:3-7): Jesus told them this parable, «Who among you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and seek out the lost one till he finds it? And finding it, will he not joyfully carry it home on his shoulders? Then he will call his friends and neighbors together and say: ‘Celebrate with me for I have found my lost sheep’. I tell you, just so, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine upright who do not need to repent

"Celebrate with me for I have found my lost sheep» (Lk 9:6). When we hear these words, we always tend to place ourselves in the group of the of the ninety nine upright who do not need to repent and observe “from the distance” how Jesus offers the salvation to a number of our acquaintances who happen to be much worse than us... Not at all!, Jesus' joy has a name and a face. Mine, yours, his..., because of our sins, we all are “the lost sheep”; so we better stop adding fuel to the flames of our arrogance, while we think we are fully converted. Christ died for the helpless, the ungodly, sinners, and his enemies. We have been all of that and worse, but he died for us anyway.

In the times we live in, where the concept of sin is played down or is even denied, where the Sacrament of Penance is considered by some persons as something hard, sad and obsolete, the Lord, in his parable, speaks only of celebration, and He does not do it only here, but actually all throughout the Gospels. Zaccheus, after having been forgiven, invites Jesus to eat to celebrate it (cf. Lk 19:1-9); the prodigal's father forgives him and offers a party for his return (cf. Lk 15,11-32), and the Good Shepherd rejoices for his found lamb that had wandered off the trail.

Do I really feel that way about the people in our world who seem to have no moral compass, no hope for the future, no knowledge of the love God has for them, who can only be described as lost? When was the last time I rejoiced because the lost had been found? Do I care about the lost? Do I believe that anybody actually is lost, that anyone might be a sinner who needs to repent? Could this partially explain the lack of joy that we sometimes experience as disciples of Jesus? Perhaps it is a thing of the past to believe that people are lost and need to repent. If, in fact, people are lost, won’t the love of God within us cause us to seek them even as the Good Shepherd sought us?"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

May I wonder out loud with you for a moment?

In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You."
- Saint Augustine

Gospel text (Mt 5:20-26): Jesus said to the crowds, «I tell you, then, that if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said to our people in the past: Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you: whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial. Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council; whoever calls a brother or a sister “Fool” deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell.

So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God. Don't forget this: be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.

For some reason, I find this gospel passage quite curious today. And I find it curious in a most peculiar way. It has to do with how “we” interpret scripture.
There are so many approaches, aren’t there? How are we to know which to follow?

Broadly speaking, when Christians interpret scripture, we/they distinguish between different elements…
•There are sections that some interpret literally. For example, the world was created in seven days. A man named Moses fled Egypt with a band of followers. Jesus lived in first century Palestine. What seems to be at issue is which sections are to be taken literally, much less what a literal reading means.

•There are sections that others interpret allegorically. That is, interpreters apply an outside structure of meaning to scripture to yield a new way of looking at things. For example, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus represent all Christians on the journey of conversion. The Lucan passage serves merely as an illustration of the greater reality, the journey of conversion.

•There are sections that some interpret symbolically. In other words, interpreters recognize depths possibly not intended in the original piece. For example, in interpreting the healing of the man with a withered hand, a preacher would explore the depths of the meaning of a withered hand. Instead of standing for only one reality, the symbol would manifest many layers of meaning.
How are we to interpret this gospel passage? Literally? Allegorically? Symbolically?
How do we in fact interpret this? I have often heard folks mainly trying to ease back Jesus’ prohibitions. It’s as if we want to make space in order to contain its power.

It’s OK to get angry if…
It’s OK to be angry when…
Righteous anger is appropriate if…
Capital punishment is fine when…
Anger is pretty bad, but unchastity is worse since…

I wonder what the odds are that we in the Church, much less in U.S. society, will listen to the gospel today. Given the high degree of road rage that we express on the highway, in the pews, and in response to “those others” today, I’d put my money on anger.

It seems to me that this passage actually is as much about reconciliation than anger. Perhaps we in the Church might commit ourselves to reconciliation as an interim stage, to help us as we seek healing from whatever drives us.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A good example is the best sermon

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2;14-17)

Gospel text (Mt 5:17-19): Jesus said to his disciples, «Do not think that I have come to remove the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to remove but to fulfill them. I tell you this: as long as heaven and earth last, not the smallest letter or stroke of the Law will change until all is fulfilled. So then, whoever breaks the least important of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be the least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys them and teaches others to do the same will be great in the kingdom of heaven».

Today, we listen to the Lord saying: «Do not think that I have come to remove the Law and the Prophets (…) but to fulfill them» (Mt 5:17). In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches us that the Old Testament is part of the Divine Revelation: First, God made himself known to men through the prophets. The chosen People gathered on Saturdays in the synagogue to listen to God's Word. And just as a good Jew knew the Scriptures and put them into practice, we Christians should frequently meditate —if possible, every day— upon the Scriptures. In Jesus we have the plenitude of Revelation. He is the Verb, God's Word, that has become flesh, and dwelt among us (cf. Jn 1:14) to let us know He is God and how He loves us. God wants of man a response of love, expressed upon the fulfillment of his teachings: «If you love me, keep my commandments» (Jn 14:15).

We can find a good explanation of today's Gospel in St. John's first letter: «For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome» (1Jn 5:3). To keep God's commandments means that we truly love him through our deeds. Love is not only a feeling; love also wants deeds, deeds of love, to live the double precept of charity. Jesus teaches us the malice of scandal: «Whoever breaks the least important of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be the least in the kingdom of heaven» (Mt 5:19). Because —as St. John says— «the man who says, ‘I know him’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him» (1Jn 2,4).

At the same time, He shows us how important good example is: «On the other hand, whoever obeys them and teaches others to do the same will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven» (Mt 5:19). Good example is the first element of the Christian Apostolate.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark or the man afraid of the light?

Our Christian mission is not to take place in a vacuum. The Church in the modern world places Christians in the world of today. It does not divorce them from the realities of the world which incorporates the sorrows and joy. -- BISHOP TERRENCE PRENDERGAST, S.J., Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto

Gospel text (Mt 5:13-16): Jesus said to his disciples, «You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its strength, how can it be made salty again? It has become useless. It can only be thrown away and people will trample on it. You are the light of the world. A city built on a mountain cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and covers it; instead it is put on a lamp-stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before others, so that they may see the good you do and praise your Father in heaven».

Today, St. Mathew reminds us of those words Jesus said regarding our mission as Christians: to be the salt and the light of the world. On the one hand, the salt is a necessary seasoning to make foods taste good: without salt, most dishes are almost worthless! Throughout centuries, on the other hand, salt has been a fundamental element to keep meat from corruption. Jesus tells us: —You must be the salt of your world, and like the salt, you are to be tasty and avoid corruption.

In our time, many have lost the sense of life and claim it is not worth their while; that life is full of disappointments, difficulties and suffering; that it goes by very fast and that it has death, as a final perspective, and a sad one too.

«You are the salt of the earth!» (Mt 5,13). It is up to Christians to give flavor to life: by showing the joyful and serene optimism of he who recognizes himself as the son of God, for everything in our lives can be a path to sanctity; by making difficulties, suffering and pain help us to purify ourselves; and by realizing that, at the end of our lives, life in Glory —the eternal happiness— is waiting for all of us - If in fact we choose it - its your choice to make everyday by the way we live!

And, also as the salt does, Christ's disciples, must preserve from corruption: where there are Christians with living faith, there cannot be injustice, violence, ill-treatment of the weak ones... Rather on the contrary, the virtue of Charity must shine in full force: worrying for others, solidarity, generosity...

And, thus, Christians are the light of the world (cf. Mt 5:14). A Christian is the torch that, with the example of his life, shows the path to Salvation, by bringing the light of truth everywhere in the world... Where, before, there was only darkness, uncertainty and doubts, now, there is light, certainty and self-confidence.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Helpful how-to guide

The word “beatitude” is a derivative of a Latin word which means “blessedness” or “blessing.” We call them the beatitudes because, in them, Jesus speaks of the revolutionary blessedness that is to be found in the kingdom of God.

Gospel (Mt 5:1-12):
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Beatitudes are intended for everybody. The Master is not only teaching his disciples around him, nor does He exclude any kind of persons, but He delivers a Universal message. However, He emphasizes the disposition we must have and the moral behaviour He expects from us. While the definite salvation is not given in this world, but in the next, we must change, RIGHT NOW, while we are here, our mentality and our evaluation of things. It is necessary we get used to see the crying face of Christ, in those who mourn, in those poor of spirit, in the meek at heart, in those who yearn to become saints, in those who have taken a “determined determination”, as St. Therese of the Child Jesus liked to say, so that we can become Sowers of Peace and Joy.

The Beatitudes are the Lord's perfume participated in human history. But, also in yours and mine. The last two verses incorporate the presence of the Cross, as they invite us to rejoice when, because of him and of the Gospel, things go humanly wrong. For when the coherence of our Christian life is strong, we will then, most probably suffer persecution in a thousand different ways, amid unexpected difficulties and setbacks. St. Matthew's text is emphatic: so «Be glad and joyful, for a great reward is kept for you in God» (Mt 5,12).

Mediation for the day: We are called to take responsibility for our fellow human beings. Even more, we are called to recognize that the reward system, which the Gospel suggests is opposed to that of our materialistic world. How do you and How will you respond?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sir, give us this bread - The Feast of Corpus Christi

Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you - for you alone? (St. Therese of Lisieux)

"I am the bread of life," and "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." Yet as a result of hearing Jesus proclaim, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:35-66).

The Feast of Corpus Christi reminds us that we possess an immense treasure. When a Catholic priest takes a little piece of unleavened bread and repeats the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, "This is my body", and when he takes a small of amount of wine in a chalice and says, "This is my blood", the bread is no longer bread and the wine is no longer wine. At every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we participate in a marvelous miracle, the miracle called, in the Latin Rite, transubstantiation. East or West, the mystery is still the same; words cannot express it.

With the many distractions of our modern culture, the buzz of media and demands of the workplace, it is all too easy to begin to adopt a somewhat indifferent attitude toward the sacred gift of Eucharist. It is often as if we are asleep. We are not awake to reality; not fully aware of the immense gravity of the unfathomable graces God has freely given us in Eucharist. We go along on our way each day, and there in the Tabernacles around the world is Christ's body and blood, our Savior who patiently waits for us to notice him, love him, and adore him; yet he so often waits alone and unnoticed.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death.

If you tell grown-ups, "I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof...," they won't be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, "I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs." Then they exclaim, "What a pretty house!" (Excerpt from the The Little Prince written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry )

(2 Tm 3:10-17 )
You have followed my teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, persecutions that I endured. Yet from all these things the Lord delivered me. In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you, 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. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

"We do not choose the world into which we are born. The ways of the world are thrust upon us. The status quo has a power that can be consuming. What matters most--persons, sustaining life, care for the vulnerable--often is swept aside. For thoroughly acculturated people, Scripture reads like notes from outer space. Who speaks such language any more? A mistrusted being, God is less real than the fleeting price of oil.

Paul reminds us that we are not helpless: the practices of faith have the power to move our lives. Scripture opens up a deeper understanding of what is real and what matters. In following Christ, we enter into a totality where self and world reveal the sacred. We learn to think, feel, and act as persons set free. In this freedom, we are not alone before the bonfires. The Word illumines reality and brings hope to the shadows.

Modern thought so often deals in dualities: the self is severed from community, fact from value, suffering from joy, transcendence from immanence, faith from reason. With these splintered forms, much is lost. The practices of faith heal divisions of all kinds; they restore our ability to think and awaken us to the goodness of this world."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We are Living Monstrances

When you look at a crucifix, you see how Christ loved you 2000 years ago. When you look at the Eucharist, you see how Christ loves you today (Mother Teresa)

In this celebration (June 3rd - The Solemnity of Corpus Christi) we proclaim our belief in the Real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also proclaim that same Jesus lives within each one of us who are baptized into His Body, the Church. In the Holy Eucharist we receive the Divine Host whom we carry in procession. Through our Baptism he has taken up residence within each one of us. We carry Him into the real world just as we carry the monstrance into its streets today. When we process we proclaim that the Lord continues to come into the world, through us.

St. Thomas noted: "Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues".

This celebration reminds me of the call to continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness. Each of us who bear the name Christian are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live. He comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are "living monstrances", enthroning the Lord in our "hearts", which is, in biblical language, the center of the person. In fact, the entire Trinity takes up residence within us and, through that life in the Church and participation in the Sacraments we can live in the Trinity. This is the mystery of what we call communion.

Jesus told his disciples "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." We who have been given the bread of angels do have His Life within us;- the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - a communion of Divine Persons in the Perfect unity of Perfect love.

We have received the Bread of Heaven. Let us become what we consume. On this Feast of Corpus Christi, as we march through the Streets of the world lifting Jesus Christ enthroned, let us say"Yes" to the invitation to become "living monstrances". Let the consuming fire of God's love purify us so that we can now be used to reveal His presence to a world waiting to be born anew.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Man cannot live without self-control

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) This statement is proven true, not because of our own talents and strength but because God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

(2 Tm 1:1-3, 6-12)
Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,to Timothy, my dear child: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God, whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was appointed preacher and Apostle and teacher. On this account I am suffering these things; but I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.

Sooner or later you will hit a wall – Hard!!!! You’ll feel like Job crying out to God in your affliction. Maybe you will even go to church some weekend wondering how to get through the next day let alone the next months and years.

However, if you can believe that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control,” there will be a crack of light in your darkness because you are never alone. You already possess the power to face down your wall. Remember, St. Paul wrote this ode to faith while he was in prison.

Surely this “power” is not power as Wall Street might define it but rather the power to believe that God accompanies us on our journey, especially when it is hardest. It is the power to overcome our doubts and fears and selfishness and to reach out to others in love.

How interesting that Paul links “self control” and “love.” Is he telling us that love involves controlling our passions to give of ourselves to others? Any parent knows how essential such disciplined love is and how much it can cost. And you, my dear friends, will find living such disciplined love to be a challenge, but the rewards will bring you lasting joy and peace. “Not as the world gives, do I give it to you.” (John 14:27)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Heads or Tails????

Jesus told Peter, "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." It is as simple as that!

Gospel text (Mk 12:13-17): Jewish leaders sent to Jesus some Pharisees with members of Herod's party, with the purpose of trapping him in his own words. They came and said to Jesus, «Master, we know that you are true; you are not influenced by any-one, and your answers do not vary according to who is listening to you, but you truly teach God's way. Tell us, is it against the Law to pay taxes to Caesar? Should we pay them or not?».

But Jesus saw through their trick and answered, «Why are you testing me? Bring me a silver coin and let me see it». They brought him one and Jesus asked, «Whose head is this, and whose name?». They answered, «Caesar's». Then Jesus said, «Return to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's». And they were greatly astonished.

Today's Word, however, is something more than knowing how to successfully get out of a conflict; it is something utterly relevant to all aspects of our life: what am I giving God?; is it really what I prize more in my life? Where did I place my heart? Because... «where your treasure is, there will your heart be also» (Lk 12:34).

Yes, indeed, according to St. Jerome, «you must necessarily render unto Caesar the coin in his image; but you willingly give your best to God, because it is his image, not Caesar's, that is on us». Throughout his life, Jesus Christ constantly poses the matter of choice. It is up to us to choose, and our options are clear: either we choose the worldly values to live by or we decide to live by the Gospel's values.

The “choice” is always before us, a time for conversion, a time to “replace” our life again in the dynamics of God. Our prayer, and specially the prayer made by God's Word, will gradually cause us to discover what God expects of us. He who opts for God becomes God's dwelling place, for «if a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him» (Jn 14:23).