Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fruit needs water in order to reach it’s fullest potential

A man cannot be a saint and a sinner at the same time. Let us remember every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. - St Matthew

Gospel text (Lk 13:1-9): One day some persons told Jesus what had occurred in the Temple: Pilate had Galileans killed and their blood mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus replied, «Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this? I tell you: no. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did. And those eighteen persons in Siloah who were crushed when the tower fell, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem? I tell you: no. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did».

And Jesus continued with this story, «A man had a fig tree growing in his vine-yard and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the gardener: ‘Look here, for three years now I have been looking for figs on this tree and I have found none. Cut it down, why should it use up the ground?’. The gardener replied: ‘Leave it one more year, so that I may dig around it and add some fertilizer; and perhaps it will bear fruit from now on. But if it doesn't, you can cut it down».

In the Gospel chosen for today, the actions of the gardener as Jesus portrays seem to me to be like a God of second and third chances. Though the owner appears to have other plans for the land on which the barren tree sits, the gardener wins the argument and promises to spend extra time and care on the tree for one more year. This will be the last, however. “It may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”

Jesus' words also invite us to ponder over the inconveniences of hypocrisy: «A man had a fig tree growing in his vine-yard and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none» (Lk 13:6). The hypocrite makes believe to be what he is not. This lie reaches its apex when one feigns virtue (the moral aspect) but is dissolute and libertine, or feigns devotion (the religious aspect) but only cares about himself and his own interests and not about God. Moral hypocrisy abounds in our world, and religious hypocrisy hurts the Church.

We all have experienced the distance between what we pretend to be and what we actually are. Some politicians are hypocritical when they claim to be serving their country while they are simply using it; security forces can be, when, in the name of public order, they protect crooked and illegal groups; sanitary personnel could also be when, in the name of medicine, they decide to do away with an incipient life or advance the ending of a terminal patient; the media, when they alter the news or pretend to amuse people by corrupting them; administrators of public money, when they divert part of it to their own party or individual pockets, but openly proclaim their honesty; the laity, when they hinder the public dimension of religion in the name of the freedom of conscience; friars, when they live out of their monastic orders, unfaithful to the spirit and demands of their rule; and priests, who live from the altar and do not serve their parishioners with evangelic spirit and abnegation; etc.

Ah! and you and I too, to the extent our conscience may tell us what we are supposed to be doing and we do not do it, and we prefer to see the splinter in the other's eye while we do not even want to realize we have a trunk in our own eyes. Is it not so?

—Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, save us from our hypocrisies, whether be small or great!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The question is not what you look at, but what you see

"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, look like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards." - Pope Benedict XVI

Gospel text (Lk 12:54-59): Jesus said to the crowds, «When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once: ‘A shower is coming’. And so it happens. And when the wind blows from the south, you say: ‘It will be hot’; and so it is. You superficial people! You understand the signs of the earth and the sky, but you don't understand the present times. And why do you not judge for yourselves what is fit? When you go with your accuser before the court, try to settle the case on the way, lest he drag you before the judge and the judge deliver you to the jailer, and the jailer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last penny».

Today, Jesus is asking us to look up and watch the skies. This morning the sky appeared clear and radiant, in one of the most splendid days of this Fall. By and by, now that the weathermen are like family members, we become more conversant with weather changes. But, on the other hand, we find many more difficulties to understand the changing times in which we live: «You understand the signs of the earth and the sky, but you don't understand the present times» (Lk 12:56). Amongst those listening to Jesus, many let go a unique chance in the history of Mankind. They could not identify the Son of God in Jesus. They didn't know the time, the hour of salvation.

The II Vatican Council, in the Constitution Gaudium et spes (n. 4), illuminates today's Gospel: «In every age, the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel (…) We must be aware of and understand the aspirations, the yearnings, and the often dramatic features of the world in which we live».

When we are making history, it is not too difficult to point out at the occasions lost by the Church for not having discovered the time in which we were living. But, Lord: what occasions are we perhaps wasting now for not being able to read the signs of the times, or what is tantamount, for not being able to live and throw light upon today's problems with the light shed by the Gospel? Today, Jesus reminds us once more:«And why do you not judge for yourselves what is fit?» (Lk 12:57).

We are not living in a world of wickedness, though there may be plenty of it. But God has not forsaken his world. As St. John of the Cross reminds us, we live in a world, which the very God treaded on and made beautiful. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw the signs of the times, and the times have understood Mother Teresa of Calcutta . Let her invigorate us. Let us keep on looking upwards without losing sight of our earth.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Its not - "All Good"

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” - Martin Luther King

Gospel text (Lk 12:49-53): Jesus said to his disciples, «I have come to bring fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already kindled; but I have a baptism to undergo and what anguish I feel until it is over! Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, in one house five will be divided; three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law».

Today, the Gospel presents us Jesus as a person of great ambitions: «I have come to bring fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!» (Lk 12:49). Jesus would like to see the fire of charity and virtue already burning. As if He would be referring to it in passing! He has to undergo a baptism, that is, the trial of the Cross, and He feels anguished until it is all over. It’s only natural, Jesus has plans, and He is in a hurry to see them accomplished. We could say He has a “Divine Impatience”. We also have ideas and projects, and we would also like to see them fulfilled straightaway. Time gets in the way. «What anguish I feel until it is over!» (Lk 12:50).

Now Jesus is saying that he is not bringing peace but discord. He is not keeping families together, but instead breaking them apart. This seems odd and wrong to us now. Many families are strengthened by their bond of religion. “The family that prays together, stays together.” But then Jesus was bringing a pretty radical idea into the world, and people who followed his lead were often persecuted. It was and is safer to keep to the staus quo. But God is calling us to follow, to do his will, and to put nothing before God in our lives. Not even family or serenity. It’s harder to put God before our families, before our jobs, before our friends, before our desires, but when God is first in our lives, the rest will fall into place.

Have great aspirations! Train your goals onward and upward! Seek your personal perfection, that of your family, that of your work, that of your deeds, that of the assignments you receive. The saints have always aspired to the highest goals. They have not been afraid to face efforts and stress. They have moved. Carry on, move, too! Remember St. Augustine's words: «If you say enough, you are lost. Go further, keep going. Don't stay in the same place, don't go back, don't go off the road. Who does not move forward, stops; who keeps thinking of the starting point, goes backwards; he who reneges goes off the road. It is better to limp along that way than to stride along some other route». And he adds: «If want to be what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have stopped. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing». Are you advancing or have you stopped? Implore the help of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Hope!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace

"If God seems slow in responding, it is because He is preparing a better gift. He will not deny us. God withholds what you are not yet ready for. He wants you to have a lively desire for His greatest gifts. All of which is to say, pray always and do not lose heart." — St. Augustine

Gospel text (Lk 12:39-48): Jesus said to his disciples, «Pay attention to this: If the master of the house had known at what time the thief would come, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect».

Peter said, «Lord, did you tell this parable only for us, or for everyone?». And the Lord replied, «Imagine, then, the wise and faithful steward whom the master sets over his other servants to give them food rations at the proper time. Fortunate is this servant if his master on coming home finds him doing his work. Truly, I say to you, the master will put him in charge of all his property. But it may be that the steward thinks: ‘My Lord delays in coming’, and he begins to abuse the menservants and the servant girls, eating and drinking and getting drunk. Then the master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he doesn't know. He will discharge his servant and number him among the unreliable.

»The servant who knew his master's will, but did not prepare to do what his master wanted, will be punished with sound blows; but the one who did what deserved a punishment without knowing it shall receive fewer blows. Much will be required of the one who has been given much, and more will be asked of the one entrusted with more».

With all the waiting we do, one would think we would be good at it, that is, that we would more frequently bring a serene spirit, a peaceful heart and a quiet mind to the task of waiting. We have so much experience with it….we wait for the weather to cool off or warm up, we wait in lines for groceries and gas, we wait for the light to turn green and for the end of the day or the end of the week so we can relax and play. But, we are hardly ever in the present moment, waiting patiently, enjoying this breath; this moment of life. More often we are anxious and restless, eager for the time “when”, rushing headlong toward…. well, what exactly?

Today, upon reading this fragment of the Gospel, we realize that each person is an administrator: when we are born, we all receive a heredity of genes and capabilities to fulfill ourselves in our life. We discover that these capabilities, and our very life, are just a gift from God, inasmuch we have not done anything to deserve them. They are the personal, unique and nontransferable gift, which bestows our personality on us. They are the “talents” which the same Jesus speaks about (cf. Mt 25:15), and we should make them grow during our life span. Capabilities for our complete self-realization, but with the additional possibility to communicate and share these values with each other.

It’s easy for us to dismiss this notion of God… as one who is just waiting for us to slip up and misbehave so we can be caught off guard, and then lose our “reward” or worse, receive “punishment. We are tempted to say there is nothing here that can apply to us. These passages, and others in the chapter, reflect Luke’s understanding of the “end time” and Jesus’ return. I imagine that so many years after Jesus’ death, people were growing tired of waiting for his return, and losing their enthusiasm for living fully the Christian life. Jesus exhorts his followers to depend on God, not to count on material wealth, and to be always ready and watchful. Is Luke, in the parables and teachings of Jesus, addressing that impatience and subsequent apathy about living in the Kingdom? Were they, like us, wanting more tangible gratifications of their faithfulness? More immediate results to motivate their continued faithfulness? Perhaps they were asking, “Why should we be faithful, and act like good stewards, when Jesus isn’t here yet? It seems like I have plenty of time, I’ll clean up my act later.” Luke is encouraging them, especially the leaders among them, and us, to live NOW the way we will want to be found by Jesus when he comes… faithful, trusting, as if the Kingdom has already come, because, in a sense, it has.

«You also must be ready» (Lk 12:40), this exhortation implies a call to fidelity, never submitted to selfishness. It is our responsibility to know “how to react” to the goods we have received with our life. «Knowing his master's will» (Lk 12:47) makes us responsible for our actions. It is a matter of justice and love to generously respond to Mankind, and towards each one of its living beings.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon man"

God answers all prayers - Sometimes, the answer is no - When this happens, do we accept His will or insist on our own? As if we know better……??? Once, someone asked Mother Teresa - What is your secret? She answered them, “My secret is simple, I pray.”

Gospel text (Lk 18:1-8): Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should pray continually and not lose heart. He said, «In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor people. In the same town was a widow who kept coming to him, saying: ‘Defend my rights against my opponent’. For a time he refused, but finally he thought: ‘Even though I neither fear God nor care about people, this widow bothers me so much I will see that she gets justice; then she will stop coming and wearing me out’».

And Jesus explained, «Listen to what the evil judge says. Will God not do justice for his chosen ones who cry to him day and night even if He delays in answering them? I tell you, He will speedily do them justice. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?».

For most people, prayer is a struggle. The struggle is intertwined with blessings, moments of profound peace, and the obvious presence of God. Trust and perseverance: two lessons that we are reminded of as we consider this Sunday's Gospel passage. Although prayer is very effective, nevertheless, it is true that prayer is not an easy enterprise. The spiritual life will always be a battle. There will always be obstacles that are necessary to overcome if we wish to live a life of prayer. This Sunday's Gospel narrative reminds us that we are to trust in God and draw close to him through a life of prayer.

Why should we pray at all? Is there a mystical number of asking and we tire God out and bingo, here it is! Is there a certain set of words which trips the benevolent bucket? People ask priests, to pray for them as if God has a special ear for priestly prayers. Maybe in addition to asking for prayers, we should pray that the faithful take their situation to prayer themselves instead of watching and waiting for God’s presence rather than presents! What Jesus is asking of the disciples is a faith that combines with hope.
We are generally pragmatists. We put in time, effort, words, works, thought, creativity and expect, yes, demand results pdq! This is not faith, it is business. Apparently God is presently out of that kind of business and into personal and communal relating.

Why are we called to pray? We pray so that we can experience our central human truths. We are not god. We are limited. We desire union, peace, and joy. We love being human until we experience needs, losses, injuries, and fears. We are invited to kneel right down in the midst of it all and have faith, which is not always pragmatically available and not to our liking. We pray to announce our dependencies and our truth that faith, hope, watching and waiting are those things which Jesus is asking for of the disciples.
We would rather have Jesus open up for business and we would gladly be His business agents, consultors and product managers and sometimes, that is how we sometimes pray.

The Virgin Mary is a model of prayer, also of petition prayer. At Cana of Galilee she was able to advance Jesus' timing, the time of the miracles, with her petition, full of love for those newly weds and full of trust in her Son.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Gospel text (Lk 11:47-54): Jesus said to the Pharisees, «A curse is on you, for you build memorials to the prophets your ancestors killed. So you approve and agree with what your ancestors did. Is it not so? They got rid of the prophets, and now you can build!. The Wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles and this people will kill and persecute some of them’. But the present generation will have to answer for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, the people of this time will have to answer for them all. A curse is on you, teachers of the Law, for you have taken the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering».

As Jesus left that place, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to harass him, asking him endless questions, setting traps to catch him in something he might say.

Today, we may mull over the meaning, acceptance and treatment given to the prophets: «I will send prophets and apostles and this people will kill and persecute some of them» (Lk 11:49). They were persons of any social or religious condition that received the divine message and were imbibed by it; driven by the Holy Spirit, they communicated it with signs and words intelligible in their own time. It was a message conveyed by means of discourses, not very laudable, generally, or by feats, almost always, difficult to accept. A characteristic of the prophecy is its discomfort. The gift is rather inconvenient for the recipient, as, deep inside, it hurts, while being quite embarrassing for the environment, that today, thanks to the Net or the satellites, can be divulged all over the world.

Prophet's contemporaries pretend to condemn him to silence, and they slander him, discredit him, and so on until he dies. It is when that moment finally arrives that it is time to build a memorial and pay homage to him, as he will not be a nuisance anymore for anyone. At present, we also have some prophets who enjoy universal reputation. Mother Therese, John XXIII, Monsignor Romero... Do we remember what they postulated and expected from us?, do we carry out what they showed us? Our generation will have to render accounts for the ozone layer we have managed to deplete, for wasting water resources, but also for forgetting that which our prophets have told us.

There still are persons pretending “the right to exclusive knowledge”, that —in the best of cases— are willing to share with their kinship only, who allow them to be well set up in their success and fame. Persons who do not let in those who try to enter the field of cognition, lest they get to know as much as themselves and move on ahead of them: «A curse is on you, teachers of the Law, for you have taken the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you prevented others from entering» (Lk 11:52).

Now, as in Jesus' times, there are many who analyze phrases and study texts to discredit whoever may inconvenience them with their words: do we also do the same? «There is nothing more dangerous than to judge the things of God with human discourses» (St John Chrysostom)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

Law; an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community. - Saint Thomas Aquinas

Gospel text (Lk 11:42-46): Jesus said, «A curse is on you, Pharisees; for the Temple you give a tenth of all, including mint and rue and the other herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. This ought to be practiced, without neglecting the other. A curse is on you, Pharisees, for you love the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted in the marketplace. A curse is on you for you are like tombstones of the dead which can hardly be seen; people don't notice them and make themselves unclean by stepping on them». Then a teacher of the Law spoke up and said, «Master, when you speak like this, you insult us, too». And Jesus answered, «A curse is on you also, teachers of the Law. For you prepare unbearable burdens and load them on the people, while you yourselves don't move a finger to help them».

The Israelites offered the Lord a tithe of ten percent of their harvested crop, usually wheat or barley. A faithful Israelite farmer tithed annually from the harvest of his field (Dt 14:22; Lv 27:30).

The Pharisees Jesus addressed may not have been farmers. Instead of growing wheat or barley, they grew smaller "garden plants" and herbs such as mint and rue that they could grow in their yard (Lk 11:42). They surpassed the letter of the law by remembering to pay tithes on even the smallest plants grown in their home. Using a modern day parallel, farmers pay taxes on the crops they grow in their large fields. Yet what farmer would consider paying taxes on the cucumbers they grow in their backyard? These Pharisees were law-loving and law-abiding — well beyond the point of what was required or even reasonable. In their zeal for God and His law, they wanted to go well beyond the minimum.

If you are a Catholic who takes their faith seriously, you probably also want to go beyond the minimum for God. You may attend Mass more than once a week. You might read Scripture or pray the rosary daily. This is loosely analogous to paying tithes on garden plants. Jesus teaches the Pharisees and us that we must not omit this desire to go well beyond the minimum for God (Lk 11:42). Yet we shouldn't be so zealous for excellence in spiritual acts that we forget the fundamental reason for those acts: "justice and the love of God" (Lk 11:42). "These are the things you should practice, without omitting the others" (Lk 11:42).

We can easily get off track and today’s readings merely point our attention back to our heavenly goals. May we each find the tool or the exercise that helps keep this goal in mind as we strive to serve a world that is in desperate need of saving.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jesus Christ was not Politically Correct - So why are we?

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires... The church needs to withstand the tides of trends and the latest novelties.... We must become mature in this adult faith, we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith.”- Pope Benedict XVI (Baptized Joseph Alois Ratzinger)

Gospel text (Lk 11:37-41): As Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to have a meal with him. So He went and sat at table. The Pharisee then wondered why Jesus did not first wash his hands before dinner. But the Lord said to him, «So then, you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil. Fools! He who made the outside, also made the inside. But according to you, by the mere giving of alms everything is made clean».

Today, the evangelist shows us Jesus at a banquet: «A Pharisee asked him to have a meal with him» (Lk 11:37). The host must have frowned when he realized his guest could not care less about the hand washing ritual (which was not a precept of Law, but just a tradition from the old rabbis) on top of frowning upon him and his social group. Jesus' behavior, as we would say today, was not “politically correct”.

The Gospels show us that the Lord was basically uninterested in what “people might say” or in what may be considered “politically correct” behavior; whether we like it or not. These are not criteria on which Christians should base their decisions. Jesus clearly condemns double morality, which clearly seeks convenience or deception: «So then, you Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil. Fools!» (Lk 11:39). God's word, as usual, questions us about customs and habits of our daily life, when we end up converting trivia into “values”, to disguise our sins of arrogance, selfishness and conceit, while attempting to “globalize” morals with political correction in order to avoid being out of tune or being marginalized, and this, irrespective of the price to be paid in terms of the soiling of our soul, as, after all, making the claim "everybody does the same".

St. Basil used to say, «he who is prudent must be mostly afraid of living pending of others' opinion». If we are witnesses to Christ, we must know that the truth will always shine through. This is our mission amidst these men we share our lives with, while trying to keep us clean after the model of man God has revealed to us in Christ. The cleanliness of spirit goes far beyond any social forms and, if we ever have any doubts, let us then remember that blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.

Each one must decide what he wants to see for all eternity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jesus + (something else) = SLAVERY

One cannot desire freedom from the Cross when one is especially chosen for the Cross. - St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD (Edith Stein)

Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1
Brothers and sisters:
It is written that Abraham had two sons,
one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.
The son of the slave woman was born naturally,
the son of the freeborn through a promise.
Now this is an allegory.
These women represent two covenants.
One was from Mount Sinai , bearing children for slavery;
this is Hagar.
But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother.
For it is written:
Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children;
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband.
Therefore, brothers and sisters,
we are children not of the slave woman
but of the freeborn woman.

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm
and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Paul told the Galatians that they had taken on themselves the yoke of slavery a second time. He was so upset he said the Galatians had lost their minds and fallen under a spell (Gal 3:1). Paul accused them of putting him back into labor pains (Gal 4:19) and said they had severed themselves from Christ and fallen from God's favor (Gal 5:4).

What did the Galatians do to throw themselves back into slavery? Were they alcoholic, drug-addicted, bitter, unforgiving, or compulsive? No, the Galatians returned to slavery by believing that both Christ and circumcision were necessary for salvation.

Many people believe in Jesus, but Jesus plus something else — Jesus plus a job, Jesus plus money in the bank, or Jesus plus insurance. When our freedom is based on Jesus plus, we have become slaves. When our freedom is based on Jesus period, we are free at last. "If the Son frees you, you will really be free" (Jn 8:36). "Only in God is my soul at rest; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my Stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all" (Ps 62:2-3).

Most of us don’t have the foggiest idea what real freedom is. It is the freedom of being genuinely human, instead of being bound by the burden of having to control "our world". It is the freedom of being loved and loving irrevocably the source of our creation. To put it simply, fear is the one work of the enemy of human nature that will destroy our freedom more than any other. Fear of death, fear of being unacceptable, fear of __________. (You fill in the blank) But if God is for us, who or what do we have to fear?

When we think we need something or someone in addition to Jesus, we are doomed to slavery. Jesus has it all. "Absolute fullness [resides] in Him" ( Col 1:19). Freedom is in Jesus alone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Recognizing the Gifts of God and Giving Thanks

Charity never humiliated him who profited from it, nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude, since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gospel text (Lk 17:11-19): On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee, and as He entered a village, ten lepers came to meet him. Keeping their distance, they called to him, «Jesus, Master, have pity on us!». Then Jesus said to them, «Go and show yourselves to the priests». Now, as they went their way, they found they were cured.

One of them, as soon as he saw he was cleansed, turned back praising God in a loud voice, and throwing himself on his face before Jesus, he gave him thanks. This man was a Samaritan. Then Jesus said, «Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God but this alien?». And Jesus said to him, «Stand up and go your way; your faith has saved you».

How can the virtue of gratitude be acquired? Fundamentally, cultivating the spirit of gratitude requires us to develop humility. We need to understand that everything that we have and everything that we are is a gift. We might begin by taking out a pad of paper and a pen and making a list of all of the wonderful gifts that we receive each day of our entire life.

We could start with life. We have been given the gift of life. Consider the air that we breathe. We take such things as air, water and even good health all for granted. We need to consider our families, the houses that we live in, the food that we eat each day, our education, our jobs, and the fact that we live in a free country.

The Gospel relates a more familiar story which has an important twist. Ten lepers shout for healing and when they receive this gift, only one returns shouting his praise. The twist is more complicated than that the healed person is a Samaritan, a foreigner. Perhaps the major difference has to do with “humility”. Jesus asks about the other “nine”. I imagine that they were not ungrateful, but more likely not humble enough to admit that once they were outside, different, unwelcomed.

It is not so much about who gave thanks and who did not. Jesus is dedicated to calling all of humanity away from the leprosy of self-righteous pharisaic posturing. Here is a little thought. The “nine” represent most Christians, at least in this. They enjoy being freed from leprosy, but lose contact with the reality of their having been outsiders, alienated, defined by something negative. They might be grateful, but they are not sure grateful for what.

The “one” represents each of us when coming to our senses; we get in touch with what it means to be redeemed by Jesus. We get in touch with our soul’s sicknesses. We touch into how disordered, depressed, angry, and or violent we once were and immersing ourselves seven or more times in the river of the redeeming Jesus, we both enjoy the freedom from, and the freedom for, the living out of His touch.

So, as we consider this Sunday's gospel narrative, we recall that gratitude is a rare virtue indeed. We need to be filled always with gratitude for God's unconditional love. We need to always thank all those who serve us and love us with the generous service. Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?" (Luke 17: 17).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“She is more Mother than Queen”

"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God"- Saint Irenaeus, Father of the Church

Gospel text (Lk 11:27-28): As Jesus was speaking, a woman spoke from the crowd and said to him, «Blessed is the one who bore you and nursed you!». Jesus replied, «Surely blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it as well».

Today, we hear the best compliment Jesus could make of his own Mother: «Surely blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it as well!» (Lk 11:28). With this reply, Jesus Christ does not reject the enthusiastic praise that plain woman dedicated to his Mother, but He acknowledges it and goes even further, when stating that the Blessed Virgin Mary is blessed —mostly!— because she has been good and faithful in keeping the word of God.

At times, people ask me whether we Christians believe in predestination, as other religions do. Certainly not!: we Christians believe God has reserved for us a destination of happiness. God wants us to be happy, fortunate, blessed. Take notice how this word is being repeated in Jesus' teachings: «Blessed, blessed, blessed...». «Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who have not seen and yet have believed» (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Jn 20:29). God wants our happiness, a happiness that begins right here in this world, even though the path leading to it is not wealth, or power, or easy success, or fame, but, the poor and humble love of he who expects it all. The joy to believe!

It is a kind of happiness which is greater than the joy of living, because we believe in an endless and eternal life. Mary, Jesus' Mother, is not only blessed because she bore him and nursed him —as spontaneously surmised that local woman— but, mainly, because of her having heard the Word and kept it: for having loved and having let his Son Jesus love her. As the poet wrote: «Being able to say “mother” and being addressed as “my son” / is what God envied us». Let Mary, Mother of Divine Love, pray for us.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Devil's most devilish when respectable.

The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. - St. Vincent DePaul.

Gospel text (Lk 11:15-26): As Jesus was casting out a devil some of the people said, «He drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the chief of the demons». So others wanted to put him to the test by asking him for a heavenly sign.

But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, «Every nation divided by civil war is on the road to ruin, and will fall. If Satan also is divided, his empire is coming to an end. How can you say that I drive out demons by calling upon Beelzebul? If I drive them out by Beelzebul, by whom do your fellow members drive out demons? They will be your judge, then. But suppose I drive out demons by the finger of God; would not this mean that the kingdom of God has come upon you?

»As long as the strong and armed man guards his house, his goods are safe. But when a stronger one attacks and overcomes him, the challenger takes away all the weapons he relied on and disposes of his spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters. When the evil spirit goes out of a person, it wanders through dry lands looking for a resting place. And finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’. When it comes, it finds the house swept and everything in order. Then it goes to fetch seven other spirits even worse than itself. They move in and settle there, so that the last state of that person is worse than the first».

Today, we are amazed to see how Jesus is preposterously “accused” of driving out demons «by the power of Beelzebub, the chief of the demons» (Lk 11:15). It is difficult to imagine a better deed —to expel, to rid their souls of the Devil, the instigator of evil— and, at the same time, to witness the most ignoble accusation —that he is doing it, precisely, by the power of the very Devil—. It is really a gratuitous accusation, which shows and reflects a great blindness and jealousy in the Lord's accusers. Today too, without realizing it, we tend to ignore the right other people have to dissent, to be different and to have their own positions, whether different or even in direct opposition to ours.

He, who lives cloistered in a political, cultural or ideological bigotry, easily despises the dissenting one and disqualifies all his projects by denying him any proficiency and, even, any honesty. Often, the political or ideological adversary becomes a personal enemy. Confrontation degenerates into affront and aggressiveness. This climate of mutual zealotry and violent rejection may then lead us to the temptation of somehow eliminating he who appears to be our rival.

In this environment is it easy to justify any attack against people, even, murder, provided the dead one does not belong in our circle. How many people are today distressed by this atmosphere of mutual intolerance and denial, which, more often than not, is to be found in our public institutions, our places of work or in meetings and political confrontation!

We must create, amongst ourselves, a climate of tolerance and mutual respect with the conditions for steadfast and loyal confrontations, where it is possible to seek different ways of dialogue. As for us Christians, rather than hardening and wrongly consecrating our positions by manipulating God’s word and identifying him with our own attitude, we have to follow that Jesus who —when John prevented someone else from casting out demons in his name— corrected him while saying: «Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you» (Lk 9:50). Inasmuch as «the countless chorus of shepherds becomes the single body of the one and only Shepherd» (St. Augustine).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To receive everything, one must open one’s hand

Gospel text (Lk 11:5-13): Jesus said to his disciples, «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, the Gospel is a catechesis by Jesus on prayer. He solemnly asserts that the Father always listens to him: «Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you» (Lk 11:9).

At times, we may think reality indicates that it is not always the case, that it does not actually “works” in such a way. This is because we must want to pray with an attitude adequate to an effective prayer!

The first premise is dedication and perseverance. We must pray avoiding feeling disheartened, even if we think our prayer is being ignored, or is not given heed to, right away. This is the attitude of that inappropriate man calling on his friend's home, in the middle of the night, to request a favor. With his doggedness he will get the loaves he needs. God is the friend who listens from within to whom is persistent enough. We must believe that He will end up by giving us what we are asking, because in addition to being a friend, He is also our Father.

The second stipulation Jesus teaches us is confidence and filial love. God's paternity goes far beyond man's paternity, which is limited and imperfect: «Even you evil people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more then will the Father in Heaven…!» (Lk 11:13).

The Third one: above all we must ask for the Holy Spirit and not only for material things. Jesus encourages us to invoke him, assuring us we shall receive it: «...much more then will Father in heaven give Holy Spirit to those who ask him!» (Lk 11:13). This petition is always listened to. It is very much like asking the grace of the prayer, as the Holy Spirit is its source and its origin.

The blessed Fra Giles of Assisi, one of St. Francis' friars and friends, summarizes the idea of this Gospel when he says: «Pray faithfully and devotedly, because a grace God has not granted you once, He may grant to you some other time. On your hand, humbly place your whole mind in God, and God will place his grace in you, as and when He pleases».

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Action is worthless without prayer; prayer is worth more with sacrifice. - St. Josemaria Escriva

Honesty is the best policy in prayer. When we admit we need help, that's when we get help. When we admit our weakness, prayer-power reaches perfection (2 Cor 12:9).

Gospel text (Lk 11:1-4): 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 for-give all who do us wrong, and do not bring us to the test».

Today, we see how one of Jesus' disciples tells him: «Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples» (Lk 11:1). Jesus' reply: «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» (Lk 11:2-4), may be summarized in a single phrase: the best mental attitude for the Christian prayer is that of a child in front of his father.

We can see right away that the prayer, according to Jesus, is something like a “father-son” kinship. That is, a family matter based on a relation of closeness and love. The image of God as a father speaks to us of a relationship based on affection and intimacy, not on power and authority.

To pray as Christians means to position ourselves in a situation whereby we see God as our father and we speak to him as his sons: «You write: ‘To pray is to talk with God. But about what?’. About what? About Him, about yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation. In a word: to get to know him and to get to know yourself: ‘to get acquainted!’» (St. Josemaria).

We must know our weaknesses in prayer: when we're only giving God lip-service (Mt 15:8), when our hearts are far from the Lord.

When we recognize our weakness, we can get help by repenting of our sins, turning to the Spirit, and asking others to intercede for us. The Lord does not expect us to be self-sufficient in prayer. He accepts us in our weakness, but we don't accept ourselves.

When children speak with their parents they try to transmit, through their words and body language, what they feel in their heart. We become better praying men and women when our relation with God is more intimate, as that of a father with his son. Jesus himself left with us his own example. He is the Way.

And, if you invoke the Virgin Mother of God, master of prayer, it will even be easier! In fact «the contemplation of Christ has in Mary its insurmountable model. The Son's face belongs to her in a very special way (...). Nobody has devoted himself with Mary's assiduity to the contemplation of Christ's face» (John Paul II).

I strongly suspect that if we saw all the difference even the tiniest of our prayers to God make, and all the people those little prayers were destined to affect, and all the consequences of those effects down through the centuries, we would be so paralyzed with awe at the power of prayer that we would be unable to get up off our knees for the rest of our lives. - Peter Kreeft Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself”

"The time you spend with Jesus in front of the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in Heaven, and will help bring about everlasting peace on earth," - Blessed Mother 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».

Martha or Mary? But......., why opposing those who loved each other so much and loved God too? Jesus loved Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus, and He loves each one of us, too. On the path of sainthood not any two souls are exactly alike. We all try to love God, but within our own style and personality, without imitating anyone. Our models are Christ and the Mother of God. Do you resent how others treat God? Try to learn from His personal piety.

«Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the serving? Ask her therefore to help me» (Lk 10:40). To serve others, for the love of God, is an honor, not a burden. Do we serve with joy, as the Mother of God did with her cousin Elisabeth or at Cana 's wedding, or as Jesus did when washing the Apostle's feet at the Last Supper?

First, each of us must strive to be like Mary in the gospel today. If we set aside time each day to listen to the Lord in prayer, the Bible, and silence, we will begin to develop a lifestyle of listening. As we listen attentively to the Lord, we will likely hear Him calling us into action. Then, having attained "full knowledge of His will," we "will multiply good works of every sort" ( Col 1:9-10).

A "Mary" tends to develop into an activist like "Martha", and only a "Mary" makes a good "Martha". As Mother Teresa said, we are called to be "active contemplatives."

Let us lose neither our peace nor our good humor. And to accomplish it, let us take good care of God's presence. «Know it well: There is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations; and it is up to each person to discover it (…); either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him» (St. Josemaria).

Jesus does not come to their house every day, but when he comes he brings an important message. Jesus is telling Martha that listening to him is far more important than the busy work of preparation. Just as in the days of Mary and Martha, people today value work and the sharing of work. God values work also, but when work interferes with hearing the words of Jesus, he wants us to listen rather than work. Here again it seems to me that our ways are not God's ways.

In today's readings I think God is calling us to listen and to learn from him.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi

"What was bitter has become sweet and what is sweet has become bitter" – St Francis when he first embraced the leper

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. Likewise 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 is the feast of St Francis and providentially chosen, the gospel reading is the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, a teacher of the Law asks Jesus the kind of question we may have asked ourselves more than once, in our life: «Master, what shall I do to receive eternal life?» (Lk 10:25). He wanted to put Jesus to the test. The Master, though, wisely answers what is written in the Scriptures, that is, to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself (cf. Lk 10:27). The key is to love. If we seek the eternal life, we know that «faith and hope will go away, but love will remain forever» (cf. 1Cor 13:13). Any life project, any spirituality, that has not love in its center, furthers us away from the actual meaning of our existence. An often forgotten but important reference point, is to love oneself. Only from our personal identity can we love God and our neighbors.

The teacher of the Law goes still further when asking Jesus: «Who is my neighbor?» (Lk 10:29). And he gets his answer with a tale, a parable, a little story, far away from complicated theories, but with a clear message. The model of the loving person is a Samaritan, that is, someone who is the outcast, someone excluded from God's people. When they saw the man beaten and half-dead, a priest and a Levite just ignored him and passed by. Those who apparently are closer to God (the priest and the Levite) are those who were farther away from their neighbor in this parable. The teacher of the Law avoids to say the word “Samaritan” to state who did behave as neighbor to the wounded man: «The one who had mercy on him» (Lk 10:37).

Jesus' proposal is clear: «Go then and do the same». It is not a theoretical conclusion of the debate but an invitation to live the reality of love, which is not only a vaporous feeling but a behavior that defeats socials denominations and stems from a person's heart. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta reminds us:

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing - but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks - but homeless because of rejection.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God

There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation - Margaret Thatcher

Gospel text (Lk 17:5-10): The apostles said to the Lord, «Increase our faith». And the Lord said, «If you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you may say to this tree: ‘Be uprooted and plant yourself in the sea’, and it will obey you.

»Who among you would say to your servant coming in from the fields after plowing or tending sheep: ‘Come at once and sit down at table?’. No, you tell him: ‘Prepare my dinner. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink; you can eat and drink afterwards’. Do you thank this servant for doing what you commanded? So for you. When you have done all that you have been told to do, you must say: ‘We are no more than servants; we have only done our duty’».

Today, Christ's message is once more about service. The Gospel is always insisting upon the spirit of service. And it helps to see how the Verb of God Incarnate —Yahweh's, Isaiah's servant— «took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient» (Phil 2:2-7). Christ also said: «But I am in the midst of you as one who serves» (Lk 22:27), as «the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many» (Mt 20:28). Jesus' example was clearly apparent when He washed his disciples' feet, thus accomplishing a servant's task. With that gesture He wanted to make quite evident that his followers were to serve, help and love each other, as brothers and servers to all, as He proposes in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

We have to live all our Christian life with that sense of service and without believing we are doing anything extraordinary. All our family, professional and social life —in the political, economical world, etc.— has to be imbibed by this spirit. «To serve, to serve», asserted St. Josemaría Escrivá; he wanted us to understand that “to be useful” we have to live a life of generous service without seeking honors, human glory or applause.

This could be kind of a picture of heaven then. We come in from doing our field and flock works and we can expect that God is so grateful that we are invited, because of our works, to get good seats at the heavenly banquet. We do not deserve heaven. Jesus took away the necessity of our achieving heaven by our works. The work of Jesus, who took upon Him the role of slave and servant, announces more clearly than ever that we too are “unprofitable servants” who are not entitled, but titled, honored and made worthy by the Master’s act of being Servant.

What is violent to our egos is that we are invited to remember who we are, served-servants. All that we do are gestures of loving gratitude. We don’t earn, accomplish, or get heaven except as the gift of a loving and saving Servant Himself.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Saint of the day: St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897)

"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul."

These are the words of Theresa of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun called the "Little Flower," who lived a cloistered life of obscurity in the convent of Lisieux, France. [In French-speaking areas, she is known as Thérèse of Lisieux.] And her preference for hidden sacrifice did indeed convert souls. Few saints of God are more popular than this young nun. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is read and loved throughout the world. Thérèse Martin entered the convent at the age of 15 and died in 1897 at the age of 24.

Life in a Carmelite convent is indeed uneventful and consists mainly of prayer and hard domestic work. But Thérèse possessed that holy insight that redeems the time, however dull that time may be. She saw in quiet suffering redemptive suffering, suffering that was indeed her apostolate. Thérèse said she came to the Carmel convent "to save souls and pray for priests." And shortly before she died, she wrote: "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth."

[On October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, the third woman to be so recognized in light of her holiness and the influence of her teaching on spirituality in the Church.]

Thérèse has much to teach our age of the image, the appearance, the "sell." We have become a dangerously self-conscious people, painfully aware of the need to be fulfilled, yet knowing we are not. Thérèse, like so many saints, sought to serve others, to do something outside herself, to forget herself in quiet acts of love. She is one of the great examples of the gospel paradox that we gain our life by losing it, and that the seed that falls to the ground must die in order to live (see John 12).

Preoccupation with self separates modern men and women from God, from their fellow human beings and ultimately from themselves. We must relearn to forget ourselves, to contemplate a God who draws us out of ourselves and to serve others as the ultimate expression of selfhood. These are the insights of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and they are more valid today than ever.

All her life St. Thérèse suffered from illness. As a young girl she underwent a three-month malady characterized by violent crises, extended delirium and prolonged fainting spells. Afterwards she was ever frail and yet she worked hard in the laundry and refectory of the convent. Psychologically, she endured prolonged periods of darkness when the light of faith seemed all but extinguished. The last year of her life she slowly wasted away from tuberculosis. And yet shortly before her death on September 30 she murmured, "I would not suffer less."
Truly she was a valiant woman who did not whimper about her illnesses and anxieties. Here was a person who saw the power of love, that divine alchemy which can change everything, including weakness and illness, into service and redemptive power for others. Is it any wonder that she is patroness of the missions? Who else but those who embrace suffering with their love really convert the world?

Patron Saint of: