Friday, July 30, 2010

“A little faith will bring your soul to heaven; A great faith will bring heaven to your soul.”

Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. --Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Gospel text (Mt 13:54-58): Jesus went to his hometown and taught the people in their synagogue. They were amazed and said, «Where did He get this wisdom and these special powers? Isn't He the carpenter's son? Isn't Mary his mother and aren't James, Joseph, Simon and Judas his brothers? Aren't all his sisters living here? How did he get all this?». And so they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, «The only place where prophets are not welcome is their hometown and in their own family». And He did not perform many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Who does Jesus think he is anyway? Why does he think he knows more than us? Does he think he’s better than us?

Then Jesus offers a powerful, if not sardonic, one-liner: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and his own house.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Look, I know I’m a prophet. And I know many people from all over are extremely impressed by what I know and do. But this is what always happens in someone’s hometown and family: lack of credibility, jealousy, ultimately lack of faith.”

It’s this “lack of faith” that I find most interesting here: “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.” We could understand this line in two ways: First, Jesus was punishing them by choosing not to perform mighty deeds because they lacked faith. I think we usually understand this passage this way. But a second way might actually have merit: Jesus could only perform mighty deeds if others showed great faith! I don’t know for sure which is the case, and I don’t intend to limit Jesus so much as to suggest that we have a significant role to play in doing God’s work. The “mighty deeds” of Jesus almost always involve great faith and participation from others: for example, raising Lazarus from the dead, healing the woman who was bleeding and touched Jesus’ garment, healing the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends, and Peter’s walking on water.

To preach or speak about God with our own people or family may be difficult but necessary. However, come what may, we shall often find that those we love the most are those who could not care less about listening to us. To this effect, we must also bear in mind that shortcomings are easier to spot than virtues and, accordingly, those closer to us may wonder: —What are you trying to teach me, who used to do (or still does) this or that?

It is evident Jesus would leave somewhat sadly but nonetheless He would proceed with his preaching until his word of salvation would be welcome by his own people. Likewise, we (that have nothing to forgive or oversee) will have to preach so that Jesus' word reaches those that we love but do not want to listen to us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

“To Be” or “To Do” – Which one are you?

The fruit of SILENCE is Prayer
The fruit of PRAYER is Faith
The fruit of FAITH is Love
The fruit of LOVE is Service
The fruit of SERVICE is Peace" - Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel text (Lk 10:38-42): As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, He entered a village and a woman called Martha welcomed him to her house. She had a sister named Mary who sat down at the Lord's feet to listen to his words. Martha, meanwhile, was busy with all the serving and finally she said, «Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving?». But the Lord answered, «Martha, Martha, you worry and are troubled about many things, whereas only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her».

Today, we, — no matter how busy we may be, at times, by so many things — must also listen to our Lord reminding us that «only one thing is needed» (Lk 10:42) saintliness. That should be our aim, the horizon we must never lose sight of amidst our daily chores.

Because we shall be “busy” if we follow our Creator’s plan: «’Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it’» (Gen 1:28). The earth! the world!: this is our meeting point with the Lord. «My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one» (Jn 17:15). Yes, the world is an “altar” for us and for our donation to God and to others. We are in this world, but that does not mean we have to be worldly. On the contrary, we are called to become —in a beautiful expression of His Holiness John Paul II— “Priests of Creation!” “priests” of our world, of a world we passionately love.

Here is the question: World AND Saintliness...World OR Saintliness? - (our daily chores and the one and only thing we truly need). Answer: They are not two opposed realities: and we have to try to make both coincide. And this coincidence must be carried out —in the first place and basically— in our own heart, where heaven and earth can be reunited. Because in the human heart is where the dialogue between Creator and creature takes place.

Therefore, daily prayer is necessary, in fact essential. «Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of “doing for the sake of doing”. We must resist this temptation by trying “to be” before trying "to do". In this regard we should recall how Jesus reproved Martha: ‘You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needed’ (Lk 10:41-42)» Once again Pope John Paul II stated: "There is no opposition between “to be” and “to do”, but there is indeed a priority order of precedence" «Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her» (Lk 10,42).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Why do you want to go to heaven? Is it simply because God lives there?

"I kept on digging the hole deeper and deeper looking for the treasure chest until I finally lifted my head, looked up and realized that I had dug my own grave." -
St Dominic

Gospel text (Mt 13:44-46): Jesus said to the crowds, «The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The one who finds it buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field.

»Again the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who is looking for fine pearls. Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it».

Today, Matthew places two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven for us to ponder over. The announcement of the Kingdom is the central point in Jesus' preaching and in the hopes of the chosen people. But it is evident the nature of this Kingdom is not understood by the majority. The Sanhedrin, who condemned him to death, did not understand it, nor did Pontius Pilate or Herod, and initially, not even his disciples understood it. We can find only in the good thief, hung on a cross along side him, the comprehension Jesus requests when he says: «Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom» (Lk 23:42). Both had been accused as criminals and were about to die; but, because of an unknown reason, the good thief recognizes Jesus as the King of a Kingdom that will come after that terrible death. It could only be a spiritual Kingdom.

In his first preaching, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom as of a hidden treasure, the finding of which causes the finder a great joy and impels him to buy the field to be able to enjoy it forever: «and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, in order to buy that field» (Mt 13:44). But, at the same time, to reach the Kingdom it is necessary to look for it with yearning and effort, to the point of selling all one may have: «Once he has found one of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it» (Mt 13:46).

The Kingdom is peace, justice and liberty. To reach it is, at the same time, a gift from God and a human responsibility. In front of the greatness of this divine gift we realize the imperfection and instability of our own efforts. Like the disciples to whom Jesus spoke, none of us has any personal experience of heaven. We do know that our moments of greatest happiness here on earth are finite. They last only for a certain period of time. We desire the great happiness of the Kingdom of heaven, where we will sit in the presence of God forever and ever, world without end, Amen!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled...???...was convincing the World he didn't exist?"

Do you really know the living Jesus - not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you?... The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes - to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more - He longs for you.
- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel text (Mt 13:36-43): Jesus sent the crowds away and went into the house. And his disciples came to him saying, «Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field». He answered them, «The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed are the people of the Kingdom; the weeds are those who follow the evil one. The enemy who sows them is the devil; the harvest is the end of time and the workers are the angels.

»Just as the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so will it be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom all that is scandalous and all who do evil. And these will be thrown in the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. If you have ears, then hear».

Today, through the parable of the weeds and the wheat, the Church urges us to ponder over the coexistence of good and evil. Good and evil within our heart; good and evil we may spot on others, good and evil we can see in the world, all around us.

«Explain to us the parable» (Mt 13:36), his disciples ask Jesus. And, today, we can mean to be more careful with our personal prayer, our everyday dealings with God. —Lord, we can ask him, explain to me why I do not progress enough in my interior life. Explain to me how can I be more faithful to you, how can I look for you in my work, or through these circumstances I do not understand or I do not want. How can I be a qualified apostle? A prayer is just this, to ask God for “explanations”. How is my prayer? Is it sincere?, is it constant?, is it trusting?

Jesus Christ invites us to keep our eyes fixed on Heaven, our eternal home. Quite often, haste can drive us crazy, but we seldom stop to think that there will come a day —we do not know whether far-off or near— when we shall have to settle our accounts with God and explain which are the fruits borne by the good seeds He has sown on us. And the Lord tells us that at the end of time we shall be chosen. So, we must choose Heaven here on earth, in our everyday life (by the way we live – in our actions), without waiting for situations that perhaps will never occur. We have to live boldly in our ordinary life, what apparently has no transcendence. We must live by thinking of eternity and helping others to think of it, too! Paradoxically, «the man who strives to live must die; whereas the man who does not strive to avoid sin has to live eternally» (St. Julian of Toledo ).

We shall reap what we have sown. We have to fight to give today the 100%. So when we are called into God's presence we might be able to go with our hands full: of acts of faith, hope and love. Which result in minor things and events that, when lived on an everyday basis, make us better Christians, saints and human.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Is Jesus saying one ought to look for the Kingdom of Heaven in the small?

Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could."
-St. Gregory Nazianzen

Gospel text (Mt 13:31-35): Jesus put another parable before them, «The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, that a man took and sowed in his field. It is smaller than all other seeds, but once it has fully grown, it is bigger than any garden plant; like a tree, the birds come and rest in its branches».

He told them another parable, «The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast that a woman took and buried in three measures of flour until the whole mass of dough began to rise». Jesus taught all this to the crowds by means of parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So what the Prophet had said was fulfilled: ‘I will speak in parables. I will proclaim things kept secret since the beginning of the world’.

Today, the Gospel shows us Jesus preaching to his disciples. He does so, as is His custom, in the form of parables, using simple everyday images to explain the great hidden mysteries of His Kingdom. In this way he could be understood by everyone from the most highly educated to the simplest of individuals.

«The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed» (Mt 13:31) The mustard seed is so tiny it is almost invisible, but if we take good care of it and water it properly... it ends up becoming a large tree. «The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast that a woman took and buried in three measures of flour (...)» (Mt 13:33). The yeast is invisible, but if it weren't present the dough would not rise. Such is the way for life lived as a Christian, the life of grace: you don't see it externally; it doesn't make a sound, but… if one lets it introduce itself in one's heart, divine grace nourishes the seed and converts people from sinners to saints.

We get this divine grace through faith, through prayer, through the sacraments, through love. But this life of grace is, above all, a gift that we must wait and hope for, that we must desire with humility. A gift which the wise and learned of this world do not know how to appreciate, but that Our Lord God wants to transmit to the humble and uncomplicated.

It would be great if, when He looks for us, he finds us, not in the group of the proud, but amongst the humble, the ones who recognize themselves as weak sinners, but very grateful for, and trusting in, the goodness of the Lord. This way the mustard seed will grow into the large tree, the yeast of the Word of God will bring about for us the fruit of eternal life because «the more the heart is lowered in humility, the higher it is raised to perfection» (Saint Augustine).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How do I pray?

Once a person asked Mother Teresa what her secret to sanctity was: She responded, “Its simple, I pray”

Gospel text (Lk 11:1-13): One day Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, «Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples». And Jesus said to them, «When you pray, say this: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, may your kingdom come, give us each day the kind of bread we need, and forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who do us wrong, and do not bring us to the test’».

Jesus said to them, «Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to his house in the middle of the night and says: ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine who is traveling has just arrived and I have nothing to offer him’. Maybe your friend will answer from inside: ‘Don't bother me now; the door is locked and my children and I are in bed, so I can't get up and give you anything’. But I tell you, even though he will not get up and attend to you because you are a friend, yet he will get up because you are a bother to him, and he will give you all you need. And so I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’. For the one who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. If your child asks for a fish, will you give a snake instead? And if your child asks for an egg, will you give a scorpion? Even you evil people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more then will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those who ask him!».

Today, Jesus praying teaches us how to pray. Let us pay great attention to how his attitude enlightens us. Quite often, Jesus Christ feels the need to meet face-to-face with his Father in prayer. In his Gospel, Luke emphasizes this point. There is this human tendency we all have of avoiding persons and experiences which make us feel bad about ourselves. The opposite is true as well. Overweight persons do not easily look at themselves in a mirror nor take advantage of stepping on scales. The more shapely can spend much time doing both. We all desire a more positive experience of ourselves, but seem to always have a certain something or certain someone’s who can make us feel inferior. As we prepare for the next celebration of the Eucharist, we should reflect on just how attending actively the Eucharistic liturgy makes us feel. We might reflect upon how we experience ourselves upon entering the worship space as compared with how we feel upon leaving.

The Gospel ends with some quite homey references to how friends and parents are so good in giving to their children, what is good for them. There is the very attractive idea that if we knock, the door will be opened, if we ask, we will receive. The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself. As we grow in faith through our participation in the life of grace, lived out in the Church, our capacity to respond to His loving invitation grows as well.

Today, we are Jesus’ contemporary disciples. We need to ask the same question asked 2000 years ago, "Lord, Teach us to Pray". Then, filled with His very Divine Life within us, we can learn how to "become prayer" by learning to "make our home in God".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let them just grow together

Even the richest soil, if left uncultivated will produce the rankest weeds
(Leonardo da Vinci)

Gospel text (Mt 12:14-21): Jesus told his disciples another parable, «The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, the weeds also appeared. Then the servants of the owner came to him and said: ‘Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?’. He answered them: ‘This is the work of an enemy’. They asked him: ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’. He told them: ‘No, when you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let them just grow together until harvest; and at harvest time I will say to the workers: Pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them; then gather the wheat into my barn’».

The point of this parable, I believe, is the landowner's allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together to maturity, which is just what God does for us.

In the four Gospels Jesus tells us in many ways that I have to choose between living joyfully with God forever and being forever separated from Him, in great pain over my loss. That aspect of this message is not new.

The special spin that Jesus puts on this question of my choice here is that I have a whole lifetime to make it in. God provides me with all that I need to choose Him and to make that choice concrete in my life rather than just a vague wish or orientation, and I must make that one central choice of my life in terms of the small daily choices that inch me closer to God or away from Him.

One other aspect here is that while the "harvesters" are able to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat, I myself must ordinarily remain in some uncertainly about whether I truly have chosen God enough, whether I have loved Him enough. Any certainty about whether I am "saved" or not can be a form of self-delusion and lead to pride, laziness, and a fatal assumption that I am "good enough." The fact is, no one is “good enough” and Jesus said himself, “pick up your cross and follow me - the man who chooses to save his life will lose it and the man who lays down his life will save it.” This requires our participation with God in our own salvation. It does not mean we earn salvation, for that was earned for us on the cross but it does mean we have to “live” a certain way and if we choose not to, there are consequences.

I simply do not know whether I am weed or wheat while I am alive, and the fact is that I am both --- but which is the dominant side of who I am? Only God knows that answer. It is up to God to decide what I have actually chosen.

And that is where the virtue of hope comes in, as well as the Sacrament of Reconciliation when I ask for forgiveness for being more of a “weed” and less of a “grain of wheat”.

Friday, July 23, 2010

We must live it

I do not ask to walk smooth paths Nor bear an easy load, I pray for strength and fortitude To climb the rock strewn road. Give me such courage I can scale The hardest peaks alone, And transform every stumbling block Into a stepping stone. (Gail Brook Burket)

Gospel text (Mt 13:18-23): Jesus said to his disciples, «Now listen to the parable of the sower. When a person hears the message of the Kingdom but without taking it to himself, the devil comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed that fell along the footpath. The seed that fell on rocky ground stands for the one who hears the word and accepts it at once with joy. But this fickle and has no roots. No sooner is he harassed or persecuted because of the word, than he gives up. The seed that fell among the thistles is the one who hears the word, but then the worries of this life and the love of money choke the word, and it does not bear fruit. As for the seed that fell on good soil it is the one who hears the word and under-stands it; this bears fruit and produces a hundred, or sixty, or thirty times more».

My job is easy today – Jesus did it for me! I don’t have to explain the gospel, because the explanation is there. But we still have to listen and understand it. It’s still a lesson we need to learn. The word of God is here and readily accessible, but how many people think about it seriously? Lots of people go to church. Lots of people say they are Christian, but how many are living the Christian life and acting on the word of God? Too often the word is like the seed in the first three circumstances. People go to church, but as soon as they leave, the words are gone. They don’t think about it again until next week. They get too busy with their day to day lives, and religion is choked out. Their good intentions are eaten up by materialism, or choked out by their daily lives, or their intentions don’t have roots and don’t survive in the outside world.

It’s not enough to hear the word of God, we must live it. We can’t let the faith and fervor we feel at church wither up and die outside the church walls. We need to hear the word of God, really listen, think about it, understand it, and live it. We need to be the rich soil in which God’s word can take root and thrive. It’s easy to let evil or apathy take over. It’s hard to have conviction and live God’s word, but the harvest will be amazing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies

Gospel text (Mt 13:1-9): Jesus left the house and sat down by the lakeside. As many people gathered around him, He got in a boat. There He sat while the whole crowd stood on the shore, and he spoke to them in parables about many things. Jesus said, «The sower went out to sow and, as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where there was little soil, and the seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was not deep. But as soon the sun rose the plants were scorched and withered because they had no roots. Again other seeds fell among thistles; and the thistles grew and choked the plants. Still other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop; some produced a hundredfold, others sixty and others thirty. If you have ears, then hear!».

In our Gospel today Jesus is telling the parable of the “Sower and the Seed” to the crowd. Most of us are quite familiar with the story. The Sower is Christ. The seed is the Good News. And the soils are the minds and hearts of each of us.

What Jesus is teaching is that his good news is having an effect comparable to the fruit produced in the parable. For all too many who hear the word it produces nothing. The faith of some gets choked out by the brambles of material concerns and interests and so it dies. For others it never develops because the soil lacks the depth and moisture required for people to practice their faith. For others it is carried away by the birds who dream up manmade religions about what they would like faith to be. The result is agnosticism, atheism and pseudo religions. In these cases the seed dies and there can be no harvest.

In the parable some seed produced fruit 30, 60 or 100fold. It seems that even in the good soil the seed sowed produced various quantities of harvest. Although these seeds were all sowed in good ground, owing to the composition of the soil according to the percentage and variety of the elements, some crops do better than others. Soil might have a greater or lesser clay content or sandy concentration. Ground can be more or less alkaline or acidic. These various conditions of the soil can be changed by the skillful farmer who wants to plant wheat or changed in another way by the farmer who wants to plant grapes.

Now the Scriptures with Jesus’ parables continue to live on and nourish believers forever. Today we know the seed is the same Good News and the soil is still the minds and hearts of each of us. And a good bet is that anyone taking the time to read these reflections has good seed-soil capable of producing a worthwhile harvest.

However, augmenting the analogy of the parable, the challenge might be for us to try to improve the soil of our minds and hearts. Tilling the ground can always enrich it. Just as greater attention when participating in the sacraments and reciting our prayers can deepen our faith. Perhaps there could be further mulching through a more consistent prayer life or charitable outreach to the needy. Or the texture of the soil could be improved by fertilizing it with further Scripture study, some volunteering activity, or in other ways. After improving our seed-soil we might not notice that much difference in the harvest in this life but in the next life we will be happy to learn that our harvest increased 30, 60 or 100 fold.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.

“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea” ~ Dylan Thomas

Gospel text (Mt 11:20-24): While Jesus was still talking to the people, his mother and his brothers wanted to speak to him and they waited outside. So someone said to him, «Your mother and your brothers are just outside; they want to speak with you». Jesus answered, «Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?». Then He pointed to his disciples and said, «Look! Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is for me brother, sister, or mother».

In today’s Gospel, which describes an event when Jesus’ mother and "brothers" (for clarification - the term brother is used figuratively not literally in the gospel) wanted to speak with him. His response to their request seems rather rude. He answered them asking "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Jesus seems to disregard his mother and instead to prioritize the bond among those who follow God’s will: "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Like with many of Jesus’ shocking statements, he wants to teach us something, namely that all those who try their best to follow his teaching – which is synonymous with God’s will – share a common bond that is stronger than blood relationships and goes beyond the boundaries of blood relationships.

But, who was ever more willing to abide by God's will than Mary? «‘I am the Lord's servant’, Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said’» (Lk 1:38). This is why, St. Augustine says that Mary, first accepted God's word with a spirit of obedience and, only afterwards, she conceived it in her womb for the Incarnation. The first one to love is always our Lord (cf. 1Jn 4:10). Mary proves it when she says: «For He has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness» (Lk 1:48). In God's eyes our own lowliness is evident; but He wants to magnify us, to sanctify us.

As followers of Jesus, we are united with people from all walks of life, from every nation, from different ethnic groups. We have a common bond that is rooted in our commitment to follow God’s will. Like in a blood family, we are expected to support each other and be available for each other in times of need. Like in a blood family, we may not always get along well with our brothers and sisters in faith but we nevertheless belong together. The way we express this common bond differs from the way blood relatives are there for each other. Perhaps we personally know some who attend the same parish or belong to the same faith-group, but we will never see most members of God’s family face-to-face. Thus, the dynamics of supporting each other are different from a blood family: Perhaps we need to support our sister parish in a developing country. Perhaps we need to pray for a diocese which faces the threat of political persecution. Perhaps we need to lobby with others so that our political and economic leadership changes policies and practices which contradict God’s will.

Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to reflect on the importance of the common bond of faith, asks us to strengthen our commitment to our worldwide faith family, and motivates us to be creative in finding ways to support our brothers and sisters through faith.

NOTE: If any reader of this reflection is confused as to the phrase "Jesus' brothers". Please understand that Catholics believe (and so do I) that the Blessed Mother was a VIRGIN both BEFORE and AFTER the birth of her ONLY son Jesus (the Christ). The below two links lay it out very clearly and plainly

The only "blood relative" Jesus had was that of his Mother (he came from her virgin womb) and when the term "brothers" is used in the gospel it refers to - "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is for me brother, sister, or mother" (Matthew 11:24) . For example, when I call an old college friend, I usually refer to him as "my brotha".

If anyone wants to discuss this more in-depth, please speak to me directly. I will be happy to have a friendly discussion


Monday, July 19, 2010

May men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after

Isn’t precisely happiness what we all want, without exception? ( St Augustine )

(Mi 6:1-4, 6-8)
Hear what the LORD says: Arise, present your plea before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear, O mountains, the plea of the LORD, pay attention, O foundations of the earth! For the LORD has a plea against his people, and he enters into trial with Israel .

O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt , from the place of slavery I released you;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

We might break the passage from the prophet Micah down into three parts: God questions His people, asking what good He might have done for them that He hasn't done, and then the people answers with the question "How can we respond to the Lord appropriately?" In a third movement God answers with the simple "you have been told what the Lord requires of you, only to do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God."

Two things strike me about this. I think that most of us would answer God's question with quite a list of the areas where we think that God has not loved us enough: the loss of a loved one, our current health, not getting a job --- all sorts of things. While there is certainly some reason to feel that way, it should not be an incitement for us to doubt God as much as it is for us to consider what true love is and whether we are mistaking the idea of a pain-free life for what we think that an all-powerful God "owes" us.

The other aspect of this passage that stands out to me is that Micah turns away from the sacrifices suggested in the second part, the general sort of thing prescribed by the Law, to a relationship with God which is spiritual and very personal, which demands the sacrifice of self ("walk humbly with God"). This is in itself a very solid solution to this problem of how God loves us....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

“We cannot find God in noise and agitation”

What is essential is not what we say but what God tells us and what He tells others through us. (Mother Teresa)

Gospel text (Lk 10:38-42): As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, He entered a village and a woman called Martha welcomed him to her house. She had a sister named Mary who sat down at the Lord's feet to listen to his words. Martha, meanwhile, was busy with all the serving and finally she said, «Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving?». But the Lord answered, «Martha, Martha, you worry and are troubled about many things, whereas only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her».

Today, we can see a divine as well as a human Jesus: He is tired of his journey and lets this Bethania family He loves so much welcome him. He will take advantage of this moment to let us know “what matters the most”.

In the attitude of these two sisters we can detect two different ways of living the Christian vocation: the active and contemplative life. Mary «who sat down at the Lord's feet», while Martha was busying herself with plenty of chores and all the serving, always happy, but tired (cf. Lk 10:39-40-42). —«Easy», Jesus tells her, «you worry and are troubled about many things, but you must have a rest, and even more, you must rest by my side, looking at me, listening to me». Two different models of Christian life we must coordinate and integrate: to live Marta's way as much as Mary's way. We have to be attentive to Lord's word, and, at the same time, alert for, more often than not, the noise and daily bustle may hide God's presence. Because a Christian's life and strength can only stay firm and grow if he maintains close ties with the true vine, where his life, his love, his yearning to go on... an not looking back, come from.

Most of us have been called by God to be like “Martha”. But, we should not forget that the Lord wants us to be more and more like “Mary” too: Jesus Christ has also called us “to choose the best part” and to let no one take it from us. He reminds us that the most important is not what we can do, but God's word, that lightens our lives by impregnating our works and deeds with the Holy Spirit’s love.

To truly rest in the Lord is only possible if we can enjoy the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Prayer before the sacrament itself!: To explain Eucharist Adoration in simple terms: In silence, we look Christ directly in the eyes.

The eye is said to be the window to the soul and many pictures can be seen therein. Prayer is an activity in which we look inwardly to see God looking through our soul’s window lovingly. We have to go eye-to-eye with ourselves to open that window. I suspect that we could keep our eyes shut if we didn’t want to be really known, but that kind of privacy is isolating.

Eucharistic adoration is the greatest treasure we Christians have. Let us remember the name of John Paul II's last encyclical: The Church lives from Eucharist. Our Lord has many things to tell us, many more than we think. Let us, therefore, seek those moments of silence and peace, to help us find Jesus again and, in him, to find ourselves once more. Jesus Christ invites us today to take an option: to choose «the better part» (Lk 10:42).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry its weight

"If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?" — David Livingstone

Gospel text (Mt 12:14-21): The Pharisees went out and made plans to get rid of Jesus. As Jesus was aware of the plot, He went away from that place. Many people followed him and He cured all who were sick. Then He gave them strict orders not to make him known. In this way Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled: «Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, and with whom I am pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him and He will announce my judgment to the nations. He will not argue or shout, nor will his voice be heard in the streets. The bruised reed He will not crush, nor snuff out the smoldering wick. He will persist until justice is made victorious and in him all the nations will put their hope».

The Pharisees went out and made plans to get rid of Jesus» (Mt 12:14) and... if we know the disciple is not above his teacher (cf. Mt 10:24), we should be conscious that we shall also have to suffer from incomprehension and persecution. No, none of us who believe in Christ in the year 2010 will be “nailed to a cross”, but rest assured, if you follow Christ as He laid it out in the gospel, you will suffer some form of persecution in this world. Bet on that one my friends. "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

All in all, it is a heavy burden upon us, a bundle that strains us. And we feel as if Jesus would be saying: «Cast off your bundle at me feet, and I will take care of it; give me that heavy burden that crashes you, and I will carry it; unload your worries and turn them over to me...».

It is kind of funny: Jesus invites us to cast off our burden, while He is offering us another one: his yoke, with the promise, however, that it is a soft and light one. He wants to show us that we cannot go around the world without any burden upon us. We are to carry some kind of load, there is no way around it! We make a choice, each and every person you know or ever will know, they make a choice and they make it everyday. Think about it……

But when you make that “choice“, let it not be a bundle full of selfishness and sin; let it be, instead, His burden that does not encumber us. One “load" gives you peace, the other may look good (and feel good at first), but it steals your peace and goes sour in time. Once again, think about it…………….

In Africa, mothers and elder sisters carry their offspring on their back. A missionary, once, saw a girl carrying her little brother... And he asked her: «Are you sure he is not too heavy for you?». And she answered back without thinking twice: «He is not heavy, he is my little brother, and I love him». Love, Jesus’ yoke, it is not only light, but it also sets us free from all that overwhelms us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. "

"The flames of mercy are burning Me - clamouring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don't want to believe in My goodness." 177 (Diary, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska)

Gospel text (Mt 12:1-8): It happened that Jesus walked through the wheat fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and began to pick some heads of wheat and crush them to eat the grain. When the Pharisees noticed this, they said to Jesus, «Look at your disciples; they are doing what is prohibited on the Sabbath!». Jesus answered, «Have you not read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God, and they ate the bread offered to God, although neither he nor his men had the right to eat it, but only the priests. And have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple break the Sabbath rest, yet they are not guilty? I tell you, there is greater than the Temple here. If you really knew the meaning of the words: ‘It is mercy I want, not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the innocent. Besides the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath».

"Today, the Lord is closing in the wheat fields of our lives, to pick the fruits of sanctity. Will He find charity, love of God and fellow man? Jesus, who corrects the rabbis' meticulous interpretation of the law, making the Sabbath rest totally unbearable, have to remind us that He is only interested in our heart, in our capacity to love?

«Look at your disciples; they are doing what is prohibited on the Sabbath!» (Mt 12:2). And the unbelievable thing is they sincerely meant it. How can anyone forbid doing a good deed? There is something inside our hearts that remind us, there is no reason that could exist which excuses us from not helping others. True charity respects the demands for justice, by avoiding our falling into arbitrariness or whim, while preventing harshness to kill the true spirit of God's Law; for charity is nothing but a continuous invitation to loving, to give ourselves to others.

However, Jesus did not come to destroy the law or even to make it null and void. He did not come so that we should no longer keep The Ten Commandments. As a matter of fact, He taught a higher law that got to the root of the issues: "For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). No, Jesus did not come to destroy the law. He came to fulfill it. He fulfilled the law of sacrifice by offering His own life as ransom for our sins. Show your love for the Savior by doing your best to live in harmony with His laws and when you fall short (as we all do), turn to Him with full purpose of heart, in humility, and ask Him to forgive you in the Sacrement of Reconciliation. Ask Him to make up the difference. He will! It's why He came.

«It is mercy I want, not sacrifice» (Mt 12:7). Let us repeat it many times to engrave it on our heart: God, who is rich in mercy, wants us to be merciful. «How close God is for he who confess his mercy! Yes; God is not far from those contrite at heart» (St. Augustine). And how far away from God are we when we let our heart turn into hard stone!

Jesus Christ accused the Pharisees of condemning the innocent. That is a serious accusation. But what about us? Are we seriously interested in other people's problems? Do we consider them with affection and sympathy, as if we were judging a friend or a brother? Let us try not to lose our way, after all.

We beg you, O Mother of God, to make us merciful and to show us how to forgive. Let us be benevolent and kind. And if we discover in our life some details that do not fit at the heart of this disposition, now is a good time to rectify them, by formulating some effective purpose."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I do not pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back

Life is to live and life is to give and talents to use for good if you choose. Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. (Venerable Solanus Casey)

Gospel text (Mt 11:28-30): Jesus spoke thus, «Come to me, all you who work hard and who carry heavy burdens and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is good and my burden is light».

Today, Jesus' words resound intimate and close. We are conscious that contemporary men and women suffer a considerable psychological pressure. This world keeps on turning round and round, we cannot stop the pace. Quite often we move away from the evangelic simplicity by loading ourselves up with rules, commitments, planning and objectives. We feel overwhelmed and tired of continuously struggling without our effort being worth its while. What are we lacking to feel actually well?

Today, at the light of the Gospel, we may review our conception of God. How do I live and feel God in my heart? What feelings uncover his presence in my life? Jesus offers us his understanding when we feel weary and want to rest: «Come to me, all you who work hard and who carry heavy burdens and I will refresh you» (Mt 11:28). Maybe we have fought for perfection while, deep inside, the only thing we wanted was to feel loved. In Jesus' words we find a response to our crisis of meaning. Our ego plays some dirty tricks on us by preventing us from being as good as we would like to. At times we may not see the light. St. Juliana of Norwich , the English mystic of the fourteenth century, had a revelation, heard Jesus’ message, and wrote: «All will go well, everything will go well».

Jesus' proposal —«Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...» (Mt 11:29)— implies following his benevolent style of life (to wish good to everybody) and his heart’s humility (virtue referring to keep our feet on the ground for only the divine grace can make us ascend). To be a disciple demands our accepting Jesus' yoke, while remembering his yoke is «good» and his burden is «light». When Jesus says that his yoke is easy, he means that despite appearances (narrow gate, rough road) his way is exactly what we seek, precisely what our hearts hunger for. Saint Augustine , who tried every other avenue first, paraphrased Jesus famously when he observed in his famous book Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” In the end, we learn this way of Jesus, not by book learning (though that can be part of it) but by studying Jesus—as reflected in the Book, and as embodied in people of faith around us. If Jesus himself seems daunting, you can catch a powerful glimpse by meeting him in a saint—Bonaventure, say, or Augustine, or Dorothy Day or Mother Teresa, or maybe some as-yet-un-canonized person you know, who maybe even lives in your house.

To live as a Christian in our present world is not such an easy thing, for we have to opt for values that go upstream. Not to get carried away by money, prestige or power demands a great effort. If we want to achieve it by ourselves, it may become an impossible task. But with Jesus everything is possible and good.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible

Gospel text (Mt 11:25-27): On one occasion Jesus said, «Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him».

Who, amongst us, would not love to become acquainted with the unfathomable mysteries of life? There are enigmas the world's best team of investigators would not even dream of detecting. There is One however before which «there is nothing hidden, (...); nor is anything secret» (Mk 4:22). This is the mystery of who calls himself the “Son of man ”, inasmuch He says about himself: «All things have been handed over to me by my Father» (Mt 11:27). His human nature —through the hypostatic union— has been assumed by the Person of the Word of God: He is, in short, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, before which darkness does not exist and for which, night is more luminous than broad daylight.

An Arab proverb says: «If a pitch black night a black ant climbs over a black wall, God sees it». There are neither secrets nor mysteries for God. There are mysteries for us, but not for God, before whom, past, present and future are open and dug into, to the last comma.

Quite pleased, the Lord says today: «Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people» (Mt 11:25). Indeed, because no one could pretend to know these or similar hidden secrets, not even by bringing them out of the darkness through exhaustive studies. A little old aged woman, without any school experience, will always be more aware about the deep secrets of life than the pretentious scientist that has spent an awful lot of money at reputed universities. Certain science can be achieved through inner faith, humility and poorness. Clement of Alexandria very well wrote: «Night is favorable for mysteries; it is then when our soul —attentive and humble— turns on itself while pondering over its condition; it is then when it finds God».

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

God has promised forgiveness, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination to ask for it

Go to your confessor; open your heart to him; display to him all the recesses of your soul; take the advice that he will give you with the utmost humility and simplicity. For God, Who has an infinite love for obedience, frequently renders profitable the counsels we take from others, but especially from those who are the guides of our souls. (St. Francis de Sales)

Gospel text (Mt 11:20-24): Jesus began to denounce the cities in which He had performed most of his miracles, because the people there did not change their ways, «Alas for you Chorazin and Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, the people there would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I assure you, for Tyre and Sidon it will be more bearable on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? You will be thrown down to the place of the dead! For if the miracles which were performed in you had taken place in Sodom, it would still be there today! But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you».

Upon reading today’s gospel I thought, the Lord also went through our towns, our neighborhood our homes, and... did we pay any attention to him?, did I take notice of him?

And when Jesus reproaches cities like Chorazin, Bethsaida, and even his chosen city, Capernaum, for failing to believe and repent even in the face of his miracles ("mighty deeds"), he is speaking to all people like ourselves who are blessed by the presence and promises and works of Jesus, but nonetheless do not put our faith into practice, do not trust in God alone, but continue to fear and follow the false gods of power, security, force -- the City of Man, rather than the City of God.

When crossing the inhuman streets of our “dormitory towns”, I wonder: what can be done to help these people whom I feel totally unable to establish a dialogue with, whom I cannot share my thoughts with, whom it seems impossible to transmit God's love to? And then, I remember the motto St. Francis de Sales chose when he was appointed Bishop of Geneva in the midst of the protestant reformation «Where God planted us, we must yearn to bloom». I then see that I should not lose Hope. I must reciprocate the goodness shown to me by God, and thus, what meager generosity I may place in the heart of whoever I am greeting, or the interested and attentive glance towards whoever is asking me some information, or just my smile of thanks addressed to whoever yields to let me through, will flourish in the future. As a result, Faith will not be lost in our present environment.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Devil doesn’t fear austerity but holy obedience

Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart. (Antoine De Saint-Exupery)

(Is 1:10-17)
Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD.
I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.

When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and Sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow.

Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. – Is. 1

If you find your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. – Mt. 10

Isaiah makes it so abundantly clear, as Amos did several weeks ago, that great external expressions of devotion don’t impress God. It isn’t what faith is about. What matters in our relationship with God is that we act justly, that we actively seek to make things right. He gives two concrete examples that are almost icons of this kind of faith: “Hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” Similarly, Jesus explains that being a follower of his is not about finding a place of easy, comfortable tranquility – an isolated home among family and friends who love us. He warns us that to embrace the Lord and his way will inevitably place us in some conflict with people around us – even loved ones. The central message is that if we try to save ourselves – if self-protection and self-care dominate our lives – we will lose ourselves, we will become caught up in ourselves and become caricatures of ourselves. But, the mystery when we call “good news” is that the way to find ourselves, that is, to come to become fully ourselves, is to lose our life – to let go, to surrender, to place our trust in God.

We’ve heard this many times. I don’t imagine there are many of us – except for a few very free people – who can say, “That’s what I want and that is how I live.” In fact, it is one of our self-protective, survival instincts deeply imbedded within us to avoid dying, to avoid surrendering control, to avoid even taking risks. It takes grace and practice to become free from these instincts, to let go of the fear of losing ourselves, in order to get more relaxed at “letting go and letting God” show us how to live in a way that thinks of the needs of others first, that seeks the common good and justice itself, no matter the personal cost. It is only with great grace and much practice that we can learn to spontaneously live heroic lives of self-sacrifice and generosity, freely and joyfully – lives with Jesus and like Jesus.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor

If you are good to the poor, at the hour of death, you will not be afraid (St Vincent DePaul)

Gospel text (Lk 10:25-37): A teacher of the Law came and began putting Jesus to the test. And he said, «Master, what shall I do to receive eternal life?». Jesus replied, «What is written in the Scripture? How do you understand it?». The man answered, «It is written: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself’». Jesus replied, «What a good answer! Do this and you shall live».

The man wanted to keep up appearances, so he replied, «Who is my neighbor?». Jesus then said, «There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. It happened that a priest was going along that road and saw the man, but passed by on the other side. Like-wise a Levite saw the man and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, too, was going that way, and when he came upon the man, he was moved with compassion. He went over to him and treated his wounds with oil and wine and wrapped them with bandages. Then he put him on his own mount and brought him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he had to set off, but he gave two silver coins to the innkeeper and told him: ‘Take care of him and whatever you spend on him, I will repay when I come back’».

Jesus then asked, «Which of these three, do you think, made himself neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?». The teacher of the Law answered, «The one who had mercy on him». And Jesus said, «Go then and do the same».

Today, we might wonder: «Who is my neighbor?» (Lk 10:29). Some inquisitive Jews were wondering why their rabbi disappeared on Saturday vigils. They suspected he had a secret, maybe with God, and they entrusted someone to follow him. There he saw, the rabbi cooking and sweeping at some woman's home: she was a paralytic, and the rabbi was serving her and preparing her some special meal for the festivity. When the spy came back, the Jews asked him: «Where did he go, to Heaven, amongst clouds and stars?». But the spy answered: «No!, he climbed up much higher».

To love our neighbor with good deeds is the highest up we can climb; it is where true love is made manifest, not just passing by on the other side: In a document, the 2nd Vatican Ecumenical Council, asserts «Christ himself raises his voice amongst the poor so as to stir up his disciples' charity».

To be a good Samaritan means to change our plans («he went over to him»), dedicating our time («he took care of him»)... Which allows us to contemplate the figure of the innkeeper, as His Holiness John Paul II points out: «What could the Samaritan have done without him? In fact, the innkeeper, remaining anonymous, is who takes care of the toughest part of the job. We can all act like him if we fulfill our own task with a spirit of service. Every occupation offers the more or less direct possibility to help the needy (...). The faithful accomplishment of our own professional duties already implies the practice of our loving all persons as well as our society».

We must turn to the Virgin Mary and She —who is a living example!— will help us discover our neighbors' material and spiritual needs. “Go then and do the same”

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fall seven times, stand up eight

Can you visualize a world with no more death, no more pain, no more hunger, no more fear, no more sorrow, no more crying nor sickness, a world where everything is a joy and a pleasure? -- A society where everybody works together in harmony, cooperation and love? That's Heaven, our true home. Never forget it and never trade it for nothing or no one!

Gospel text (Mt 10:16-23): Jesus said to his disciples, «Look, I send you out like sheep among wolves. You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. Be on your guard with respect to people, for they will hand you over to their courts and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of me, and so you may witness to them and the pagans. But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say and how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak; but it will be the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. For sure, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes».

Today, the Gospel emphasizes the troubles and contradictions we Christians have to suffer because of Christ and his Gospel, and how we must stand firm and persevere to the end. Jesus promised us: «I am with you always, until the end of the age» (Mt 28:20); but He did not promise his disciples an easy journey; on the contrary, He told them: «Everyone will hate you because of me» (Mt 10:22).

The Church and “the world” are unfortunately very different from one another. The Church is bound to convert the world to Jesus Christ through word and deed, but our world is not a neutral reality, as if of virgin wax waiting for the sculptor to shape it. This is what it would have been like, had there not been a history of sin between the creation of man and his redemption. But, as isolated from God’s structure, the world obeys another lord, that St. John's Gospel names as “the lord of this world”, the soul's foe, whom —when baptized— the Christian has promised to disobey, to stand up to him, so as to only belong to Jesus Christ and to Mother Church, which begot him in Jesus Christ.

However, though christened, we still live in this world and not somewhere else; we do not give up our earthly citizenship nor do we deny our honest contribution to sustain and improve our world; our civic duties are also Christian duties; to pay taxes is a duty of fairness for Christians. Jesus said that his followers are “in the world, but do not belong to the world” (cf. Jn 17:14-15). We do not unconditionally belong to the world, we only belong to Jesus Christ and to the Church, our true spiritual fatherland, that is down here in our earth and goes through space and time barriers to finally disembark us at our final destination, Heaven.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Freely you have received, Freely give.......

"The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist."~Pope St. Gregory the Great

Gospel text (Mt 10:7-15): Jesus said to his disciples, «Go and proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’. Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. You received this as a gift, so give it as a gift. Do not carry any gold, silver or copper in your purses. Do not carry a traveler's bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or walking-stick: workers deserve their living. When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, wish it peace. If the people in the house deserve it, your peace will be on them; if they do not deserve it, your blessing will come back to you. And if you are not welcomed and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town and shake the dust off your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than it will for the people of that town».

Today, we want to foresee even the unforeseeable. And, if today we talk so much about peace, perhaps it is because we need it so badly.

We want to foresee even the unforeseeable: soon, we shall buy insurance to foresee the possibility our insurer may fail us. Or, perhaps, to foresee our buying a pair of trousers, and the sales clerk giving us a stained or discolored pair! Today's Gospel, with its invitation to travel without any luggage («Do not carry any gold, silver or copper in your purses»), is inciting us to confidence, to availability. But, look out! This does not mean carelessness! Not even improvisation. Living this reality is only possible through a life deeply rooted in what is truly fundamental: in the person of Christ. His Holiness John Paul II says: «We must respect an essential principle of the Christian vision of our life: the supremacy of Grace. We should not forget that without Christ, ‘we can do nothing’ (cf. Jn 15:5)».

Today, Jesus tells us «go»; go out. In other words, do bear in mind, those you have beside you. Let us, therefore, keep them in our mind, open to their needs.
This idea of the authority to heal, or gift to direct the healing power of God, is not discussed very often in advising circles (or if it is discussed, not openly). Yet here it is, in the Gospel: Jesus sends His apostles out on the road to heal. This suggests that mere knowledge and passion are not enough. A healer needs more than that.

As illustrated in other Gospel accounts, Jesus is unable to heal when He is among people with little faith. The healing power, then, might be thought to flow from the community of believers, and from the individual who wishes to be healed,

We must ask ourselves, then, how we might contribute to a healing environment. We are not all called to be healers, but perhaps we are all called to contribute in some way. Perhaps a good start is to reflect upon our commitment to that community of believers. Do we open new wounds, or help soothe old ones? Do we nurture the sick back to health with our smiles? Or do we take care of our own and let the rest fend for themselves?

Let, therefore, the force of Christ's Today soak us up! And... «who has truly found Christ cannot keep Him only for himself, he has to announce Him» (John Paul II).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Some wish to hear the word of God, others wish to receive it

Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, Bob, why are you resisting me? I said, I'm not resisting you! He said, You gonna follow me? I said, I've never thought about that before! He said, When you're not following me, you're resisting me. --Bob Dylan

Gospel text (Mt 10:1-7): Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority over the unclean spirits to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon, the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, the man who would betray him. Jesus sent these twelve on mission with the instruction: «Do not visit pagan territory and do not enter a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. Go and proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’».

Today, the Gospel shows us Jesus sending his Apostles on a mission: «Jesus sent these twelve on mission with these instructions...» (Mt 10:5). The twelve make up the “Apostolic College”, that is “missionary”. The Church, in its earthly pilgrimage, is a Missionary Community, as its origin lies in the fulfillment of the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, following God, the Father's divine intentions. In the same way as Peter and the other Apostles, by institution of our Lord, constituted a single Apostolic College, the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, form a body which has the duty to announce the Gospel everywhere.

Among the disciples sent on mission we find those with an outstanding position, given by Christ, and a greater responsibility, such as Peter; and others, as Thaddaeus, whom we practically know nothing about; however, the Gospels, which communicate Good News, were not intended to satisfy our curiosity. On our side, we are supposed to pray for all the bishops, for the famous and for the not so famous ones, while living in communion with them: «See that you all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father and the presbytery as you would the apostles...» (St. Ignatious of Antioch). Jesus was not looking for cultivated people, but simply for people who were available, willing and able to follow him to the end. This means that, as a Christian, I must also feel responsible for a part of Jesus' plan of salvation. Do I keep away from evil? Do I help my fellow-men?

As their mission was just beginning, Jesus hurries to give them instructions with some limitations: «Do not visit pagan territory and do not enter a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. Go and proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’» (Mt 10:5-6). Today we must do what we can, with the certainty that God is calling all pagans and Samaritans in another phase of the missionary work.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anything under God's control is never out of control

Hos 8:4-7, 11-13
Pray, trust and don't worry." ~ Blessed Padre Pio

Thus says the LORD: They made kings in Israel, but not by my authority; they established princes, but without my approval. With their silver and gold they made idols for themselves, to their own destruction. Cast away your calf, O Samaria! my wrath is kindled against them; How long will they be unable to attain innocence in Israel? The work of an artisan, no god at all, Destined for the flames— such is the calf of Samaria! When they sow the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind; The stalk of grain that forms no ear can yield no flour; Even if it could, strangers would swallow it. When Ephraim made many altars to expiate sin, his altars became occasions of sin. Though I write for him my many ordinances, they are considered as a stranger's. Though they offer sacrifice, immolate flesh and eat it, the LORD is not pleased with them. He shall still remember their guilt and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt.

What is it about idols? Were the people of Hosea’s time that much more superstitious and ignorant than people today? We humans seem to have a desperate need to feel we’re in control in at least some sectors of our lives. Natural disasters, illnesses, the fall-out from war and crime, the decisions of politicians, economic uncertainties – everything that affects our lives seems to be outside our control. In today’s political sphere we try to exert control with referenda and recalls. In Hosea’s time, as the first reading makes plain, our need to be in control expressed itself as something more tangible – physical idols, images of power – power to make things happen – such as bull calves or monstrous ogres. But also, note, a dependence on the trappings and structures of society – kings and princes, for example. The prophets were always ambivalent about whether a king was necessary or desirable for Israel. “Give us a king, like all the nations” the Israelites implored Samuel, and through him God (1 Sam 8:5). A king, they seem to have thought, would mean security. Despite the unpredictability of life events, maybe – just maybe – they could be like everybody else who had their own gods and kings, and get some control. We humans have to try. We have to find a way to feel secure.

God, through Moses, Amos, Hosea – all the prophets and patriarchs – says “NO! I am in control. Trust me.” The first of the Ten Commandments can be stated “I Am is God – the only God there is. Don’t try to manipulate me with images, whether of me or of any other thing I have created. You don’t need to seek my favor. I care for you more than you could possibly imagine. You can’t change my mind about that. Trust me. Trust me totally.”

“Trust me.” Let go of your need to be in control. That’s hard. It’s always been hard. Israelite history is filled with almost continuous lapses back into polytheism, not because the gods were intrinsically attractive, but because just maybe they could be influenced in our favor. And the scriptures are just as full with cries of reform from prophets such as Hosea. Total trust in God is what Moses meant when he said to the Israelites as they stood on the threshold of the promised land: “Today I set before you life and death . . . choose life, then.” (Deut 30:19). By “life” he meant doing it God’s way – as in the first of the commandments. Every other way is death. Jesus’ familiar statement about seeking and losing one’s own life (Matt. 16:25) makes the identical point: “A person who seeks to be in control will lose it (and life); one who relinquishes control to God, finds life.”

It’s no less hard today than in Hosea’s time to let God be in control. We seek security in self indulgence, in democracy, capitalism, or socialism, in habits and hierarchies (i.e. our own idols). We delude ourselves with the sense of control that comes – we think – from “doing it my way” (as in Frank Sinatra’s theme song). But none of these is God; nor is any one of them a substitute for God. In the New Testament, we often encounter the word “faith”. For the most part that actually means “trust.” Try substituting the word “trust” in the gospel and Pauline passages that use “faith”. You’ll see an amazing and satisfying continuity with the prophets of ancient Israel. While incredibly challenging, it all makes new sense. The basic message hasn’t changed. The truth still is that our only security is with God.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Faith makes all things possible... love makes all things easy

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." -- Saint Augustine

Gospel text (Mt 9:18-26): While Jesus was speaking to them, an official of the synagogue came up to him, bowed before him and said, «My daughter has just died, but come and place your hands on her, and she will live». Jesus stood up and followed him with his disciples. Then a woman who had suffered from a severe bleeding for twelve years came up from behind and touched the edge of his cloak. For she thought, «If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed». Jesus turned, saw her and said, «Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you». And from that moment the woman was cured.

When Jesus arrived at the official's house and saw the flute players and the excited crowd, He said, «Get out of here! The girl is not dead. She is only sleeping!». And they laughed at him. But once the crowd had been turned out, Jesus went in and took the girl by the hand, and she stood up. The news of this spread through the whole area.

Today, the liturgy of the Word invites us to admire two splendid manifestations of faith. So splendid were they that they deserved to move Jesus Christ's heart —immediately!— provoking his reaction.

«My daughter has just died, but come and place your hands on her, and she will live» (Mt 9:18). We could almost say that a strong faith as such can “oblige” God. But, He likes that kind of obligation. The other testimony of faith of today's Gospel is also equally impressive: «If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed» (Mt 9:21). Both Jesus' reaction and the end result of this dialogue of faith are quite radical: «Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you» (Mt 9:22).

It is He who wants to “oblige and commit himself” with our faith: «So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened» (Lk 11:9). He is our Father and He does not want to refuse anything that is convenient for his children. But remember, there is a difference between “needs” and wants”. God gives us what we need, not always what we want. All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is “no”. Keep in mind, sometimes those “no” answers are just what we need! The hard part is accepting them. Like Our Lady did - “Let it be done to me according to his word”. (Lk 1:38)

But we must entrust our petitions to him with confidence; confidence and naturalness with God require treatment: to trust somebody we must know him; and to know him we must treat him. Thus, «faith provokes prayer, and when prayer arises it makes faith strong» (St. Augustine). Let us not forget the praise the Virgin Mary deserves «Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!» (Lk 1:45).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Do we "Still Hold These Truths"?

"Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” (Thomas Jefferson quoted on the Jefferson memorial in Washington DC)

"This Sunday is the 4th of July, the day when people will gather all over the United States of America to celebrate Independence. Fireworks will light up the sky, families will gather and we will all pause to remember those who gave their lives so that the promises set forth in that Declaration of Independence could inform a new Nation. The courageous men who signed this document were influenced by the great treasury brought to Western Civilization by the Christian Church. They believed there actually were truths to be held and that those truths are self evident. Those truths include the existence of unalienable rights which are given to all men and women by a Creator. They believed that those truths and those rights can be discerned by all men and women because they are revealed by the Natural Law which is written on all human hearts and is a participation in God's law.

No matter how diverse the American founders were in their religious convictions they all affirmed the truths this Declaration proclaimed and recognized that the unalienable rights which flowed from them were given not by civil government but endowed by the Creator. The implication is obvious; they could not be taken away by civil government either. On July 4, 2010, we should celebrate our Independence by reaffirming our Dependence on God and proclaim together again together that we hold these truths!

"How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking? The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

"We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth. We must develop this adult faith

It is time that we take our place in proclaiming that there are truths which can be known and they must order our lives together. It is time to take up the task of the New Evangelization in this Nation which we love. It has become mission territory. We are the missionaries. May God Bless America."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Who are the people that we exclude from our tables?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves” (Carl Jung)

Gospel text (Mt 9:9-13): As Jesus moved on from there, He saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom-house, and he said to him, «Follow me». And Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew's house, many tax collectors and other sinners joined Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, «Why is it that your master eats with those sinners and tax collectors?». When Jesus heard this he said, «Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and find out what this means: ‘What I want is mercy, not sacrifice’. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners».

In today's Gospel passage, Jesus is challenged because of His inclusion of all sorts of people at His table. His reply confronted the righteous, among whom the Pharisees no doubt counted themselves, with their need for some serious attitude adjustment. If they wanted to take a seat at Jesus' table, they should be ready to sit next to all kinds of folks. They could exclude themselves; He would exclude no one.

«Why is it that your master eats with those sinners and tax collectors?» (Mt 9:10). Jesus' answer is immediate: «Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do» (Mt 9:12). The comparison is perfect: «I did not come to call the righteous but sinners» (Mt 9:13).

These words of the Gospel are topical. Jesus keeps on inviting us to follow him, each one of us according to his condition and profession. And, more often than not, to follow Jesus means to leave behind some messy passions, or some poor family relationships, or just a waste of time, to allot some moments to prayer, to the Eucharist feast or to some missionary pastoral care. In other words «no Christian ought to think of him as his own master, for he is submitted to God's service» (St. Ignatius of Antioch).

Jesus is, indeed, asking me to change my life, so I wonder: which group do I belong to, to the perfect persons or to those who sincerely accept they can dramatically improve? For I can improve, can't I?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

God asks little, but He gives much!

Have confidence, My child. Do not lose heart in coming for pardon, for I am always ready to forgive you. As often as you beg for it, you glorify My mercy. – (St. Faustina Divine Mercy Diary Excerpts – 1488)

Gospel text (Mt 9:1-8): Jesus got back into the boat, crossed the lake again, and came to his hometown. Here they brought a paralyzed man to him, lying on a bed. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, «Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven». Then some teachers of the Law said to themselves, «This man insults God». Jesus was aware of what they were thinking, and said, «Why have you such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? You must know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins». He then said to the paralyzed man, «Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home». The man got up, and went home. When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe and praised God for giving such power to human beings.

Today's Gospel is another instance of the Saviour's mercy, in two different aspects at the same time: the illness of the body and the sickness of the soul. And, the soul being more important Jesus starts with it. He knows the sick man has repented of his faults, He sees his faith and that of those bringing him, and says: «Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven» (Mt 9:2).

Why does He start like this without his having been asked to do so? He is, of course, aware of what the paralytic is thinking and He knows this is what he will appreciate the most, for when facing the sanctity of Jesus, the paralytic might feel confused and ashamed of his own faults and scared that they may hamper his healing. So the Lord wants to calm him first. Jesus does not care whether some teachers of the law murmur in their hearts. Not only, but a part of his message is to prove He has come to show his mercy towards sinners, and He now proclaims it.

And so, it happens that, while those blinded by their pride, think of themselves as if they were the only just ones and cannot accept Jesus' claim, those that sincerely consider themselves as sinners, do take Him in. It is towards those God condescends to forgive them. As St. Augustine says: «Great misery is a proud man, but to the humble, God's mercy is even greater». And, in this case, the divine mercy goes even further: as an additional complement of his forgiveness He heals the paralytic too: «Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home» (Mt 9:6). Jesus wants the sinner's joy to be complete.

We must reaffirm our confidence in him. But, we should remember we are also sinners, so let us not close ourselves to his Grace.