Saturday, December 31, 2011

Everyone wants to transform, but nobody wants to change

“Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all”

Gospel text (Jn 1,1-18):
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'"
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father's side,
has revealed him.

Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus offered Himself to you in the Eucharist. The Word became flesh (Jn 1:14) and made Himself lovingly available in case you wanted Him. To you, who are "His own, He came" (Jn 1:11). Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus, "the Word" (Jn 1:1), made His holy word available to you. His love letters to you, the Bible, were constantly present to you in case you wanted to listen to Him. Three hundred and sixty-five days this year, Jesus made sure that your lungs kept breathing, your heart kept beating, your body kept functioning. Jesus was always thinking of you this year, staying faithfully with you (Mt 28:20), constantly loving you.

This year, 2011, has now come to "the final hour" (1 Jn 2:18). At the end of the year, Jesus, "the End" (Rv 22:13), stands waiting for you.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Feast of the Holy Family: Learning to Love, Pray and Live in the School of Nazareth

"The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth". - Pope Benedict XVI

(Col 3:12-21)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

Jesus spent 30 of his 33 earthly years in Nazareth. Some spiritual writers have called these the 'hidden years', because there is so little written about them in the Gospel narratives. However, they reveal the holiness of ordinary life and show us how it becomes extraordinary for those baptized into Christ. From antiquity the Christian family has rightly been called a domestic church. In our own Christian family we can learn the way of selfless love in the School of Nazareth.

The challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment. Two trees still grow in the garden of domestic life. They invite the exercise of our freedom, which is the core of the Image of God within us. There is the tree in Eden where the first Eve said, "No I will not serve." Then, there is the Tree on Calvary where Mary, the "second Eve" stood with the beloved disciple John and, along with him, again proclaimed her "yes".

In this life of responding to the Lord's invitations we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful. This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one.

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

All knowledge is sterile which does not lead to action and end in charity

“Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of actions, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves. It is useless for a man to flaunt his knowledge of the law if he undermines its teaching by his actions.” - St Anthony of Padua

(1 John 2:3-11) Beloved:
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, "I know him," but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

The purpose of the Christmas season is to grow greatly in love for Jesus. To grow in love requires God's grace, our willingness to accept His grace, and a process by which we are transformed and made more capable of loving. We go through this process of transformation by taking step after step in obedience. "By obedience to the truth" we purify ourselves "for a genuine love" (1 Pt 1:22). "The way we can be sure of our knowledge of Him is to keep His commandments" (1 Jn 2:3).

By obedience, Mary conceived Christ and loved Him more deeply than anyone has ever loved Him. By obedience, Joseph became the foster-father of Jesus and grew from love to love. By obedience, the shepherds and wise men saw the infant Jesus and began a new life of love forever. By obedience, Simeon "came to the temple" (Lk 2:27) where he met Jesus, the Light to the Gentiles, the Glory of Israel (Lk 2:32), and the God Who is Love (1 Jn 4:16).

In today’s reading, John is very specific about being and living who we say we are. It is our actions not just empty claims of knowing Jesus that will secure us a place in the light. The actions that he writes of are actions that are based on a sincere love of our sisters and brothers. That kind of love that motivates our actions comes from a recognition of the dignity bestowed by God on each and every human being. That kind of love motivates us to treat everyone with respect , to meet their needs, soothe their pain and sorrow, and provide a witness to the love that comes from our heavenly father.

It is a love that does not allow for discrimination between the beginning of life and the end of life, the person on death row and the saintly neighbor, the rich and the poor, the mentally ill and the physically ill, the homeless man begging at the interstate exit and those who are gainfully employed, etc. It is not always an easy love; we all have prejudices that we have to work at overcoming or at least moments when it is difficult to truly find God in another. Jesus is always there to help us in finding the dignity of others as long as we are open to him.

Sure, it may be easy to follow God’s commandments when everything is peachy and those around us are not annoying us; but when things get tough, how easy is it to actually love the complaining friend, the screaming child, and the angry boss?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey

I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible. – St Teresa of Avila.

Gospel text (Mt 2,13-18):
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
"Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

Today is the feast day of the Holy Innocents, the infants King Herod ordered slaughtered within two years following the appearance of the star to the Wise Men (Mt 2:16). The Church holds in the highest regard these innocent children, these martyrs. "They died not only for Christ, but in his stead" (St. Augustine, "Sermon 10 on holiness").

Although many people don't want to talk about sin, especially around Christmas time, we all believe in sin. We believe that Herod, Hitler, Stalin, and other villains in history chose to do things which are objectively wrong.

However, we would like to think that sin is rare, since many people maintain that most acts are not matters of objective right or wrong but only matters of subjective values. Nevertheless, sin is not rare, but universal. Everyone is a sinner, and many people sin frequently (see Rm 3:23).

St. Joseph offers us a very clear and responsive testimony to God's call. We can, thus, identify ourselves with him when we are to make decisions, from our own faith, in difficult moments of our life: «Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left that night for Egypt» (Mt 2:14).

For every Herod, there is a Joseph. For every murderer, there is a disciple of Jesus, who will be told by the Lord how to save the lives of children. What is He telling you? You're not responsible to do everything, but you can do something. What is the Lord saying?

Can He talk to you? Are you open to surprises, sacrifices, corrections, or challenges? Are there things you refuse to hear, defenses you won't let down, sacrifices you won't make, and sin you won't admit? The first question is not: "What am I hearing?" but "What am I willing to hear?"

The Lord can save lives through you if you let Him talk to you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out. "

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. – St Teresa of Avila

Gospel text (Jn 20,2-8):
On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
"They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we do not know where they put him."
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.

John is traditionally identified with the Beloved Disciple (the other disciple whom Jesus loved - Jn: 20 - 4 ), on whose testimony today’s Gospel is based (Jn 21:24). John testified that he surely could not help but speak of what he had heard and seen (Acts 4:19-20). Everything within John found joy in sharing his experience of Jesus' love with others (1 Jn 1:3-4). On this third day of Christmas, Jesus gives us the opportunity to contemplate the life of St. John.

As I thought about this readings on the feast of St. John, a startling question hit me. What would it have been like to have Jesus for a best friend? A lot of people say this, especially if they are running for office but John really WAS Jesus’ best friend from what we can tell from the Scriptures.

Since Jesus was fully human, he must have needed the comfort and support of a friend he could trust and relax with just like the rest of us. Was that John’s role? Did John tease Jesus and make him laugh? Did he just listen when things were tense? Obviously they prayed together but did they relax over a glass or wine? I’m trying to envision Jesus and John as human pals instead of marble statues.

What kind of a guy was John that gave him a unique place among the Disciples? What qualities can we emulate to become friends of Jesus?

First and probably most important, there’s loyalty. When the others deserted Jesus on the cross, John was there, taking care of Mary. Jesus must have known that he could count on John under the worst of conditions. Like John, if we want to be friends of Jesus, we must be faithful and care for others. That kind of faithfulness can take courage such as John exhibited in refusing to desert Jesus when others did.

I’m also intrigued by how John handled the jealousy that the other apostles must have felt towards him because of his friendship with Jesus. These, after all, were men that fought for position at the Last Supper. We can be pretty sure that John never had to push for his position but he already had it. Did John just ignore any heat he took from the others or did they all just recognize his role? Was John one of those seemingly perfect people that others can’t really resent despite themselves?

We get a feel for John’s wish to share his friendship with Jesus in the first reading in which he invites us into fellowship with “the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” There was nothing selfish in this friendship – rather a desire to share it with generations to come. While we can’t hang out with Jesus as John did, we can emulate his qualities that will help us find friendship with Jesus.

Monday, December 26, 2011

When one is convinced that his cause is just, he will fear nothing."

Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave. - Aristotle

(Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59)
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

The story of St. Stephen in our reading today communicates a powerful and maybe uncomfortable message. Doing the right thing is hard. Sometimes it can be dangerous, and, as in the case of Stephen and other martyrs, doing the right thing and speaking with the spirit can be fatal. People do inconceivable things to each other in distant places and around the corner. Why do these things happen? Who lets that happen?

We see hateful things everyday. Perhaps we can’t do much about the world’s problems, but we can do something about our own lives. We have to stand up and do the right thing every day. When someone is being demeaned by another person, we can ask God, as Jesus says in the Gospel today at the Mass, to give us what to say, for the grace and wisdom to speak up and stop the tiny bits of hate, of people treating others as less than human. We treat people as less than human when we gossip, when we let an unkind remark go by, when we witness something cruel. While we may not be the ones doing the deed, our roles as silent bystanders help build up those little bits of hate.

We often let ourselves off the hook by thinking these small things don’t matter. I don’t want to make a scene, we say to ourselves. I worry what others might think, we say to ourselves. It’s time to change that message to ourselves. I will speak up because it’s the right thing to do. I will ask God for the grace and wisdom. As the psalm says, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness.”

Saint Stephen was a martyr in life. Martyr means “testimony”. To put it in 21st century language, “He put his money where his mouth was”.

So too should today's Christians witnesses of Jesus Christ through eyes of faith, fearlessly proclaim him in plain language and courageous action.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

He is a baby... but also, God All Mighty; He is God, but now, He is also one of us.

"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. “

(Gospel John 1:1-18):
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
"This was he of whom I said,
'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'"
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side,
has revealed him.

Christmas invites us to live a unity of life; to become comfortable "in our skin" by being fully human, enjoying life, living and loving as Jesus lives and loves; beginning now. Sometimes, Christians live lives that are perceived as anything but fully human. Who is drawn to a man or woman whom they feel will not have empathy for their own weakness? However, they were and they are, drawn to Jesus Christ. He wants to live in us and invites us to live in Him.

Christmas reminds us that in the "fullness of time" God came among us. Heaven touched earth and earth has been elevated through this encounter! The all- powerful God who made both heaven and earth became a vulnerable baby and chose to give Himself to His creation in order to create it anew.

Let us welcome Jesus, let us seek him: we shall find salvation, and the true solution to the problems of our world, only in Him; He only is giving us the ultimate meaning of life, of our pains and setbacks. This is why, today, I am proposing you: let us read the Gospel, and let us mull over it; let us try to truly live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, the Son of God that has come into us. Only then, we shall realize that, together, we could truly build a better world.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"It is easy to think Christmas, and it is easy to believe Christmas, but it is hard to act Christmas."

"We are in Advent. We remember that a woman held in her arms a child, and that child was God. If we remember that, then we are givers of peace, we are lovers of the Beloved. We own him through love. And he owns us! the most extraordinary thing in the world is that God loves you and me!"-- Catherine de Hueck Doherty

(Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24)
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner's fire,
or like the fuller's lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.

Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

Almost everyone believes in preparing for Christmas. But are we preparing the way of the Lord (Lk 3:4) or the way of the world?

The Lord calls us to make gigantic changes in our ways. Priorities as big as mountains in our lives should be leveled. Our valleys, depressions, pits, and ruts are also to be leveled. As crooked as our hearts are (see Jer 17:9), Jesus wants them straightened. As rough as our edges are, they must be smoothed.

The Lord is not calling us to maintain, much less to promote, the status quo of a world trapped in sin. The Lord is calling us to a revolution where the high and mighty are deposed from their thrones and the lowly raised to high places (Lk 1:51-52). That's what He means by "preparing the way of the Lord." Are you prepared for Christmas by Christ's standards?

Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, and Jesus all went through big changes near the time of Jesus' birth. Are you prepared to do the same? Will you receive the real Christmas? Will you receive Christ?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.”

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. --Saint Augustine

Gospel text (Lk 1,46-56): Mary said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months
and then returned to her home.

In the days leading up to Christmas the Church gives us these passages from the sections of the Gospel surrounding the birth of Jesus. That is partly to prepare us for the feast we are about to celebrate, but partly also to instruct us, not so much about what happened, but about what it means. Today’s Gospel reading is a perfect example.

Luke casts Mary not just as the mother of Jesus, but as the first disciple and, indeed, the model for the discipleship of us all. At the annunciation she heard God’s word and accepted it, just as we do when we become a disciple. But there’s more to it than that. Mary acted on that word. It was not good news for her alone – she went to her cousin Elizabeth, not simply to help, but to spread the good news. For you and me that good news might have been “The most marvelous thing has happened! I am going to be the mother of the Messiah!” But Mary didn’t say that. As her Magnificat makes clear, this was not just about her. Instead, she interpreted to Elizabeth what the angel’s message meant. Her praise of God in the Magnificat makes clear what has happened. God has shown strength, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry. Note the interesting parallels with what her Son will say in Luke’s version of the beatitudes and woes (6:20–26) – the poor and the rich; the sad and the happy, the hungry and the sated, the derided and the praised. They’re all there in Mary’s song of praise, just as they would be some 30-odd years later in her Son’s first major speech.

As we meditate on these stories, it’s important to understand the underlying meaning. The whole Christmas story is, itself, a Gospel in miniature. Some hear God’s word and respond, others turn away and resist.

The challenge for me, this year, as always, and I hope for you as well, is figuring out how to interpret for others what we believe happens at Christmas, just as Mary interpreted for Elizabeth.

Christmas is not just for us . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joy is very infectious; therefore, be always full of joy.

Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love. – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel text (Lk 1,39-45):
Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."

The words of Mary's cousin will travel through time: «Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!» (Lk 1:42).

The gospel reading today reminds us to be joyful. When was the last time you praised and thanked God in joy? I think we often find ourselves telling God our problems and asking him for things. There is nothing wrong with that. But I do think that exulting, being extremely joyful, to God is equally, if not more, important than asking God to help us with this or that. So, let’s try something new, let’s “Sing to him a new song” (Psalm 33:3).

Let's sit back, take a deep breath in and exhale out. Now think of someone you are blessed to have in your life. A friend, your spouse, a family member - someone who has made you smile, someone who has been there through the thick and thin. Think of the joy you feel when around him or her. Let us thank God in joy for having put these special people in our lives.

Let us take another deep breath in and exhale out. Right now, you are alive, fully and truly. We have each been given these beautiful lives to live. Let us thank God for the joy of this life, for it has allowed us to do so many things.

Joy is indivisible from faith. «But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?» (Lk 1:43). The joy of God and Mary has spread all over the world. To allow it within us, we need only to open ourselves through our faith to God's constant influence in our life, while walking our path with the Infant, with She who has believed, by holding St. Joseph's strong and enamored hand. Earthen paths, asphalt, cobblestones or muddy roads through, any Christian always carries upon him, two dimensions of faith: the union with God and the service to others.

Let us remember this Advent season that God has given us so many blessings and that we should sing out joyfully to him. As John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the mere presence of Jesus, let us leap for joy for the life we are given and the people God has blessed us with.

Merry, almost-Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Have confidence. Return. Invoke our Lady and you'll be faithful."

"Before, by yourself, you couldn't. Now, you've turned to our Lady, and with her, how easy!"--St. Josemaria Escriva

Gospel text (Lc 1, 26-38):
In the sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."

But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."

Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.

Why would the all-holy God become a human being? Why would the Creator become a creature? "How can this be?" (Lk 1:34) Jesus' Incarnation should blow our minds.

It is the story of how one of us said yes to being part of God’s plan. How many times does life not make sense? It couldn’t have made sense for Mary that day. But Mary showed us how to accept the Will of God, to take the unexplainable in stride, even if it will cost us dearly.

As we learn to expect from the Lord, the most important event in the history of mankind —the Creator and Lord of all things becoming man, just like us— takes place in a very simple way: a young woman in a small village in Galilea. No fireworks.

The way of going about it is simple; the event is magnificent as are the virtues of the Virgin Mary: filled with grace, the Lord is with her, humble, simple, available for God's will, generous. God has plans for her, as he has for you and for me, but He relies on our free and loving cooperation to carry them out. Mary is our example: «I am the hand¬maid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word» (Lk 1:38). It is not only a “yes” to the message of the Angel; it is turning herself into the hands of God the Father, to abandon herself to his intimate providence, to let God work through her now and in all the circumstances of Her life.

Of Mary's answer to God's will, as of ours,—Saint Josemaría Escriva— writes, «never forget it, a great deal depends on it».

We are preparing to celebrate Christmas. The best way to do so is to be with Mary, contemplating Her life and trying to imitate Her virtues in order to receive the Lord with the right heart: What does God expect from me, now, today, at work, with this person I deal with all the time, from my relation with Him?

A great deal depends on our response to the little things of every day!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Faith is like electricity. You can't see it, but you can see the light

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

(Gospel: Luke 1): But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God."

Why do I/we doubt?

Because there is just so much dark stuff out there. There is so much evidence of bad people doing bad things. There is such a tendency in our world to think of my needs first, and to ignore the great suffering and sorrow of others, and this attitude is becoming contagious.

Zechariah could speak again, when he acknowleged his belief in the promise. He confirmed the name given to the promised child, "his name is John." The name "John" means "God is gracious." When I/we can say "God is gracious," then I/we can speak again. The ability to speak, live, act, witness a hope in God's fidelity to us starts with our acknowledging that "God is gracious."

That's our Advent journey - to say in my heart and out loud: "I believe that you are and will be gracious, for I believe you love me and have come to set us free from the power of sin and death. The bigness of your promise is hidden in the mystery of the littleness of your coming."

In the Gospel, because Zechariah is hesitant to believe what the angel is saying, the angel makes him mute so that he may come to believe. May we learn to accept what God lays out in his will for us because otherwise, we begin to impede on the effectiveness of God’s will. When we accept and have faith in God’s will, we can appreciate our gifts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It’s in our blind trust that love will find us

"For me to believe is to fling myself into the darkness of the night, following a star I once saw though I do not know where it will take me... to believe is to trust God and place my hope in him."

Gospel text (Mt 4,18-22):
As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.

If someone that you have never met or even seen came up to you and told you to follow them, would you listen? Would you trust the stranger or would you simply ignore them and move on with your daily routine? Today’s popular Gospel reading from Matthew looks at the trusting relationship that Jesus has with his followers, his people who put all of their faith in the stranger, the unknown. Why is it that these fishermen decide to drop their nets and follow Jesus?

This Gospel revolves upon the value of trust. Trusting in someone can often be hard to do. For some, trusting comes easy. In today’s Gospel, Peter and Andrew, and then later James and John decide to immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus after he says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men”. They trusted in him and had no second thoughts about following Jesus.

I would have a difficult time trusting someone that I have never met. Trusting in strangers is something that I continue to struggle with and believe I will always struggle with because I was brought up to not trust in people I don't know. However, the fishermen did not say ‘no’ or ‘I do not trust you’; rather, their actions reflected their trust in this man.

Trust. How do you trust the stranger? Are you able to put your faith in Jesus just as the fishermen did in today’s Gospel? Are you willing to drop your nets or whatever you are doing to follow and put your trust in Jesus?

Today, let us reflect on our trust in God, who loves us personally.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Miss no single opportunity in performing small acts – a simple smile given away can change everything!

There was no need for me to grow bigger, on the contrary, I must be as small as ever, smaller than ever. – St. Therese of Lisieux

Gospel text (Lk 10,21-24):
Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
"I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,
and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

«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). Very rightly, this fragment of the Gospel has been called the “Magnificat of Jesus” by some authors, as the underlying idea is the same as in Mary's Canticle (cf. Lc 1:46-55).

Joy is an attitude which goes together with hope. It has to be difficult for a person who has no hope, to be happy. And, what is it that we Christians put our hope in? The coming of the Messiah and of his Kingdom, in which justice and peace will bloom; a new reality where «the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will rest beside the kid, the calf and the lion cub will lead them» (Is 11:6). The kingdom we are waiting for is making its way day by day, and we have to know how to discover its presence amongst us. For the world we live in, so lacking in peace and harmony, in justice and love, how necessary the hope of us Christians is! A hope that does not come from natural optimism nor false illusion, but from God himself.

However, Christian hope, which is light and heat for the world, will only be had by that ones who are simple and humble of heart, because God has hidden knowledge and the mystery of his kingdom's love from the wise and expert, that is to say, from the ones who are blinded by pride in their erudition.

A good way to prepare the paths of the Lord in this Advent would precisely be to grow in humility and in simplicity, to open our hearts to the gifts of God, to live with hope and become better witnesses of Jesus' kingdom every day by our very lives.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"The will of God — nothing less, nothing more, nothing else."

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. - C.S. Lewis

(Isaiah 2:1-5)
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz,
saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come,
The mountain of the LORD's house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
"Come, let us climb the LORD's mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths."
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!

“Let us climb the Lord’s mountain” is what we strive to do each and every day of our lives. At the beginning of every day we make a choice to climb God’s mountain. Some days the mountain is Pike’s Peak while other days the mountain is more like a gently rolling slope.

The house of the Lord will be on the top of the mountain and all will stream toward it, from all directions, each on their own path. Who is in this human stream seeking the Lord? The rich, the poor, the strong, the weak, the sick and lame, the morally upright and the morally corrupt, the victims and the perpetrators – in short, all of us, all 7 billion of us now wandering around on this planet.

Are we close to changing swords into plowshares? Well, there was a recent report that we live in one of the least violent times of human history. How can that be? I think it was based on the number of people in conflicts as a percentage of the total population, so the growth in numbers actually has made all of us a little safer. We still train for war, and still spend a lot of our resources on it (especially the US). But we also have increased agricultural yields to un-dreamed of levels, we have eradicated many diseases, we have provided educational and cultural and societal opportunities around the world that could not have been anticipated a century ago.

So where is the Lord’s house? Is it on top of a mountain, or is it in each of us as we strive to move forward on the path that calls us to the Lord? Don’t we really build the house of the Lord one small act at a time by our reverence for each person, by our willingness to stop and help, by our civility, by our recognition that the Lord is in each of us, and therefore we all are in the house of the Lord in our every moment? And don’t we chip away at the house of the Lord when our anger, our frustration, our selfishness, our greed, causes us to think only of ourselves and not of the other 7 billion pilgrims on their path to the house of the Lord?

And so my prayer today is for the grace to recognize the needs of our fellow pilgrims and act toward them in a way that adds a small piece to the house of the Lord as we journey together.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent - Prepare the way!

"Rejoice and be glad that so great and good a Lord, on coming into the Virgin's womb, willed to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that men who were in dire poverty and suffering great need of heavenly food might be made rich in him." -- St. Clare of Assisi

Gospel text (Mk 13,33-37):
Jesus said to his disciples: «Be alert and watch, for you don't know when the time will come. When a man goes abroad and leaves his home, he puts his servants in charge, giving to each one some responsibility; and he orders the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, for you don't know when the Lord of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight, when the cock crows or before dawn. If He comes suddenly, do not let him catch you asleep. And what I say to you, I say to all: watch».

The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.

Advent is the name of that moment.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

“The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.”

Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains All that it strives for. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.” - St Teresa of Avila

Gospel text (Lk 21,34-36):
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man."

One wonders why the dire warnings at this particular time. Shouldn’t the readings be more hopeful to prepare us for the beginning of Advent?

But, if we can get beyond these dire warnings, we see that there is hope. There is the promise that God will be a just judge. He will be there during the anxieties of our days and any sufferings that we encounter. He does not expect that we do it on our own; it is our faith and trust in God that saves us. He is honored by our trust not by our fear.

As we finish this church year, may we put the anxieties of our lives in the loving hands of Jesus so that we can focus on preparing for his coming and bask in the warmth of his love.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Forever is composed of “nows”

"People were not created merely to live here on earth like animals that disappear after their death, but to live with God and in God, and to live not for a hundred or a thousand years, but to live eternally." -- Bishop Innocent of Alaska

Gospel text (Lk 21,29-33):
Jesus told his disciples a parable.
"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away."

Imagine you thought today was Thanksgiving Day and you wondered where the turkey was. Did anyone ever call you at 3AM and ask if they woke you? These are situations where people have no sense of time.

This time warp is even worse in spiritual reality. Some people think they have years to go but really they have only minutes. Others expect our civilization and lifestyle to last forever, although history indicates just the opposite. Some think the "thousand year" millennium mentioned in Revelation hasn't started; others think it's about to end (Rv 20:3, 6). Some believe there's no chance of Jesus' final coming today; others say "soon and very soon." Jesus says: "Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. You observe them when they are budding, and know for yourselves that summer is near. Likewise when you see all the things happening of which I speak, know that the reign of God is near" (Lk 21:29-31).

What time is it? "Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!" (2 Cor 6:2) "It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near" (Rm 13:11-12). "You are not in the dark, brothers, that the day should catch you off guard, like a thief" (1 Thes 5:4).

"Therefore let us not be asleep like the rest, but awake and sober!" (1 Thes 5:6) God is signaling for a time-out. Time will be out and eternity will be in.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy “Thanks”---“Giving”

“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”

Gospel text (Lk 21,20-28):
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
"Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
And when he saw them, he said,
"Go show yourselves to the priests."
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
"Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you."

Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?

It is not he who prays most or fasts most, it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fall seven times, stand up eight!

Pray! Pray, but with faith – with living faith! Courage! Onward, ever onward!" - (The words of St John Bosco as he was dying)

Gospel text (Lk 21,12-19):
Jesus said to the crowd:
"They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents,
brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

What is today’s Gospel calling us to do? It is an invitation to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who to this very day are facing persecution. Regrettably, some will face death. They are indeed the martyrs of this era. Their faith in Jesus provides an enormous witness value to all of us. The question is, of course, do we let it become a witness value for us?

Hence, we need to reflect about how willing we are to live our lives more fully as Christians. Certainly in the first world and in the developing nations there is such a growing secularism that forces so many Christians and other religious people to privatize their faith lives. That is, to make their faith more of a private matter in the home or at Church and to never let their beliefs lead them to act at work or in the larger community. That has led people, perhaps including you, to be so reluctant to address communal issues from a Christian perspective. For an example, do you have the courage to speak out against injustices and immoral actions? We are being called to be more assertive in living out our faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers to give us the wisdom to speak and to address our adversaries or those who may reject us due to our faith. We should be consoled by that promise! In fact, the real message is this: that God will always be there for us. Now on our part, we need to decide if we can place such trust in God where ever we are in the world!

Each one of us has experienced unspeakable moments’ of pain, betrayal and sadness in this life. Moments when it seems that all is lost. Jesus has promised not to leave us, not to forget us, not to turn away from us. He hasn’t left me out there to wade through the muck and mire of each painful moment by myself. On the contrary, he’s made a promise to be there.

While this promise doesn’t mean we won’t experience hardship and pain in this life (we will) what it does promise is something greater, something that supersedes the pain of this life and something that can never be taken away from us. Not only does Jesus promise to be with us always, providing us with wisdom and grace for every situation, he assures us that in the end no part of us will be destroyed but rather that our lives will be secured through our perseverance in this world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Man is harder than rock and more fragile than an egg

Only the man who has faith and is inspired by charity can rise above the miseries, the meannesses, and the malice of this world; instead, the man who lets himself be overcome by the spirit of illicit gain, of overweening hatred, and of impurity, is doomed to suffer, first here below, because he can never be entirely satisfied, and later in the other world. - Pope John XXIII, Daily Papal Messages

Gospel text (Lk 21,5-11):
While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, "All that you see here?
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Then they asked him,
"Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?"
He answered,
"See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
"I am he," and "The time has come."
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end."
Then he said to them,
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."

It seems easy for us to believe that we have control over these things. We go on our merry way thinking that we will be here forever -- we accumulate possessions as though we are going to take them with us. I still occasionally see the bumper sticker that says, 'He who dies with the most toys wins.' What exactly does he win? Eternal life? Happiness? Our precious lives are short and we need to live them in Faith and to reject the pressures that amassing things is a way to win.

Today’s gospel addresses the fragility and finiteness of our earthly structures both literally and figuratively. We can build and build, making bigger and taller structures yet none will be permanent, and all will eventually fall. This finite nature is not limited to physical structures, nations, societies; political realms are all just as fragile. There is only one eternal aspect of life -- our Faith. Life on this earth will challenge us in a variety of ways and will pass, but it is our Faith that will sustain us and save us. Everything, except the love of God, is transient.

How can we live fearlessly, die fearlessly, and even face the end of the world fearlessly? We conquer fear by love. "Love has no room for fear" (1 Jn 4:18). "Perfect love" is not necessarily sinlessness but complete commitment. If we love the Lord with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength (Lk 10:27), we will be so filled with love that our love will crowd out all fears.

Lesson of the day: Give it up. We should not give up in our endeavors, but give our stresses up to the Lord. Pray. Trust. Ask for peace and guidance. If we always do this, then we should have nothing to fear.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Self-sacrifice is the real miracle out of which all the reported miracles grow."

“The Christian faith is meant to be lived moment by moment. It isn't some broad, general outline--it's a long walk with a real Person. Details count: passing thoughts, small sacrifices, a few encouraging words, little acts of kindness, brief victories over nagging sins.”

Gospel text (Lk 21,1-4):
When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, "I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."

Money is a power in our world that takes many forms. We meet budgets, send aid, search for jobs, collect dividends, and confront the growing gap between rich and poor. My credit score sits next to my bank account as a measure of my worth in the eyes of the world. Entering into my heart, I find expectations shaped by a capitalist world that I sometimes mistake for the only way the world could be. The financial crisis stirs up fear. What future will our children face? Our spirit shrinks with our retirement funds. Gravity gets the upper hand and grace retreats.

The widow was alone and vulnerable. She had very little to grasp. Yet she realizes how many blessings fill her life. Set free by gratitude, she digs into her meager rations to share her wealth with others. Her generosity was not designed to win favors from God or temple leaders. It was not simply adherence to the law. The widow knew a fullness missing from the grasping hands of those who never have enough. She knew abundance and her response was to share with others.

The widow's generosity is a good lesson for us, Christ's disciples. We can be extremely generous, as the wealthy people that were «putting their gifts into the treasure box» (Lk 21:1). But, none of this will be worth while if we only give “from our plenty”, without a loving or generous spirit, without offering ourselves along. St. Augustine says: «They looked at the great offerings from the wealthy and they praised them for that. And, even if they could see the widow later on, how many did notice those two coins...? She gave whatever she had, for she had God in her heart. But she had plenty, for she had God in her heart. It is better to have God in our soul than gold in the safe». Quite true!

Let us be generous with God and He will be much more so with us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Remember the Small Things - There lies the key to heaven

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. - Mother Teresa

(Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'
Then they will answer and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.'
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."

Reflection by Mother Teresa: Some of my sisters work in Australia. On a reservation, among the Aborigines, there was an elderly man. I can assure you that you have never seen a situation as difficult as that poor old man's. He was completely ignored by everyone. His home was disordered and dirty. I told him, "Please, let me clean your house, wash your clothes, and make your bed." He answered, "I'm okay like this. Let it be."

I said again, "You will be still better if you allow me to do it."
He finally agreed. So I was able to clean his house and wash his clothes. I discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust. Only God knows how many years had passed since he last lit it.

I said to him, "Don't you light your lamp? Don't you ever use it?"
He answered, "No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I light it for?"

I asked, "Would you light it every night if the sisters came?"
He replied, "Of course."

From that day on the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. We cleaned the lamp, and the sisters would light it every evening.

Two years passed. I had completely forgotten that man. He sent this message: "Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still."

I thought it was a very small thing. We often neglect small things.

Friday, November 18, 2011

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

In the life of the body a man is sometimes sick, and unless he takes medicine, he will die. Even so in the spiritual life a man is sick on account of sin. For that reason he needs medicine so that he may be restored to health; and this grace is bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance.--St. Thomas Aquinas

Gospel text (Lk 19,45-48):
Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
"It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves."
And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.

Physically, we need to wash and take a shower or a bath every day. Likewise, we need Jesus to cleanse the temple of our body each day (1 Cor 6:19).

As temples of God, we must remain fit and always become more holy. From time to time, we need to make changes in our lives – sometimes small, sometimes radical. It may be that all we need is the grace to be aware of the need for change, or we may need our tables overturned. We need not fear in either case, for Christ is committed to remain at our side to help us make whatever change of habit or heart that is needed.

It is well to remember that the effort itself is formative. That is what God is asking from us.

Our job will always be to keep our minds and hearts attentive to why God makes us a temple in the first place: to receive God’s love and to return it by sharing it with others: our families and close circles of friends, our collaborators at work, the needy on the street, in the hospitals, soup kitchens, classrooms, or at any cross-roads we come to. God made us because God loves us. With that love comes a call: to be holy, prayerful, and ready to love others, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves for their sake. This call enables God to reach out, through us, with love for them and to help them become Holy. This is how the Kingdom of God grows.

Let Jesus cleanse your temple each day, so He will not have to cleanse you when the garbage has piled up. Let Him take out the garbage today. Be clean and pure as He is (1 Jn 3:3).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? --Thomas à Kempis

“No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him”

Gospel text (LK 19,41-44):
As Jesus drew near Jerusalem,
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
"If this day you only knew what makes for peace?
but now it is hidden from your eyes.
For the days are coming upon you
when your enemies will raise a palisade against you;
they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.
They will smash you to the ground and your children within you,
and they will not leave one stone upon another within you
because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."

The Gospel reading is brief; it follows Jesus’ entering Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. He's received the praise and recognition worthy of his Kingship. But, today he knows not all the people have heard his word, and instead he will be put to death in this great city. So he weeps when he sees Jerusalem because the people “did not recognize the time of your visitation.” He weeps because even though they have seen, they do not believe, and he says they do not know what makes for peace. A lesson for those of us who do believe in Him and have read His teachings but still do not choose to follow them.

The thought of Jesus weeping is very moving to me. I think about how little His coming means to people today.

However, we Christians cannot just be stuck with our mourning, nor can we be misfortune foretellers, but rather, men of hope. We know the end of the story, we know Christ has tumbled down the walls and broken the chains: the tears He is shedding in this Gospel anticipate the blood, which He has saved us with.

This is why, we must thank God and discover amid us He who visits and redeems. Even when Christ “seems” to be “hidden from your / (our) eyes.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The way of the world is, to praise dead saints, and persecute living ones

“If you succeed there is no success without sacrifice. If you succeed without sacrifice it is because someone has suffered before you. If you sacrifice without success it is because someone will succeed after.”

(2 Maccabees 7:1, 20-31):
It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested
and tortured with whips and scourges by the king,
to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law.

Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother,
who saw her seven sons perish in a single day,
yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage,
she exhorted each of them
in the language of their ancestors with these words:
"I do not know how you came into existence in my womb;
it was not I who gave you the breath of life,
nor was it I who set in order
the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe
who shapes each man's beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy,
will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law."

Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words,
thought he was being ridiculed.
As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him,
not with mere words, but with promises on oath,
to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs:
he would make him his Friend
and entrust him with high office.
When the youth paid no attention to him at all,
the king appealed to the mother,
urging her to advise her boy to save his life.
After he had urged her for a long time,
she went through the motions of persuading her son.
In derision of the cruel tyrant,
she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language:
"Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months,
nursed you for three years, brought you up,
educated and supported you to your present age.
I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth
and see all that is in them;
then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things;
and in the same way the human race came into existence.
Do not be afraid of this executioner,
but be worthy of your brothers and accept death,
so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them."

She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said:
"What are you waiting for?
I will not obey the king's command.
I obey the command of the law given to our fathers through Moses.
But you, who have contrived every kind of affliction for the Hebrews,
will not escape the hands of God."

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the execution of six Salvadoran Jesuits, their community worker, and her young daughter.

What does it mean to lay down my life; to disregard my own interests for the sake of God’s work through my being? The martyred Jesuits knew the dangers they faced due to the previous killings of Catholic priests in the country. But they continued to denounce war, poverty and violence as “social sin.” They knew the tragedies around them were unjust, immoral and impractical, but they went further and named systemic injustice as a violation of God’s will, as blasphemy and idolatry. Their deaths remain one of the greatest tragedies of Catholic priests in a lifetime, but every year we “represent” their memories and mission by joyfully walking towards Christ while the violent and unforgiving world attempts to harden our hearts. The Jesuit martyrs remind us that life is short. Their blood calls us to wake up, practice a mature Christianity, use our talents wisely, and spend our days working on behalf of the world’s poor. Their deaths warn us not to waste the precious time we have been given. They cry out: Seek God! Love one another! Serve the least, hunger and thirst for justice, and make peace while there is still time.

Finally, the Jesuit martyrs invite us to be people of true hope; the essence of our Christian identity. They avoided the cheap hope so common in our comfortable, apathetic culture. Instead, the martyrs point us to the hope of Jesus on the cross, the hope that comes close to despair, the hope that pursues justice and peace even though it seems so futile. The martyrs teach us to place our hope in God, and so to know that the outcome, the results of our work, are in God’s hands. As we learn this hard lesson, we find the strength to give our lives too for a new world without war, poverty, and everyday violence; whether or not we live to see the fruit of our work. We go forward in hope, even joy, when we represent and celebrate their lives this week because we know that their earthly words and actions have been given new breath and life by our Creator.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Climb a tree. See Jesus. Be a tree

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion; it is like a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. – Billy Graham

Gospel text (Lk 19,1-10):
At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
"Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house."
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
"He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
"Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over."
And Jesus said to him,
"Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost."

The world is full of Zacchaeuses and like Zacchaeus, we need a “tree” to climb so we can see Jesus.

Zacchaeus was short. He seemed to be always standing on his tiptoes to look taller. He had taken the job of tax collector to make "big money," possibly to compensate for his small size. Zacchaeus was another Napoleon, a short man trying to make a big impression. But it didn't work. The more Zacchaeus tried to be big, the shorter he got — not physically but spiritually. He was short on justice, love, mercy, peace, happiness, and hope.

Finally, Zacchaeus tried one more time to be tall. He climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Jesus looked up at the man who had climbed the ladder of success in business, and told him to "hurry down" (Lk 19:5) — not just down the tree but down the power tower of his life. Zacchaeus gave up a life of focusing on himself and comparing himself with others and chose a life of denying his very self and following Jesus (Lk 9:23). Then Zacchaeus no longer needed to be tall, for the life he lived was not his own but a life of faith in Jesus (Gal 2:20).

Like Zacchaeus, we are all “short”. We can spend our lives on tiptoe, up trees, and climbing ladders, or we can live for Jesus and others.

Christianity is the most radical decision possible for a human being. To follow the crucified Savior is to lose our lives (Lk 9:24) and be "delivered from the futile way of life" handed on to us by our materialistic culture (1 Pt 1:18). Let us be converted as Zacchaeus was converted. Let us be crucified with Christ (Gal 2:19).

Let us love as Jesus loves.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My blindness is my sight

The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love – Blessed Angela of Foligno

Gospel text (Lk 18,35-43):
As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
"Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
He shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me!"
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
"What do you want me to do for you?"
He replied, "Lord, please let me see."
Jesus told him, "Have sight; your faith has saved you."
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Spiritual blindness may be more common in our Western culture than spiritual sight. So many have been blinded by secular humanism, "the god of the present age" (2 Cor 4:4). Quite often, our society, the culture of the “politically correct”, will try to shut us up: with the blind man in today’s gospel they were not able to. He did not shrink back. Despite «people (…) scolded him, ‘Be quiet!’, he cried out all the more, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’» (Lk 18:39). What a wonderful thing!

Today’s Gospel gives us another example of persistent cries from one who needs help. While others attempted to silence him, he persisted in crying out. Remarkably, Jesus does not ignore or marginalize him, but instead engages with him in a beautiful way. Jesus’ question is a powerful one: “What do you want me to do for you?” All of us could sit for a while with that question. We are often tempted to turn it around so that we get to ask the question. It is more comfortable that way, and of course it is good to want to do something for Him with our lives. But perhaps today it would be good to sit with the possibility that God is asking us that question. How will we answer?

Jesus healing the sight of the blind man – a well-known parable from Luke – is the problem most nations have with the homeless and the “untouchables”. Jesus served those in need, and lived with the impoverished, while we segregate them out of our society and into their own shelters and onto the street. We have let this happen right under our noses without a second glance, however it is also the responsibility of our society and of our hearts to see these problems and take steps in the right direction, standing up for what we believe.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God

Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.

(Mt 25:14-30): Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master's money.

After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five.
He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
'Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
'Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.'
His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"

When Jesus asks for an account of your service, you tell Him: "Lord, I've given everything I have to serve You for years. I've gone without sleep, had more children in obedience to You, completed spiritual projects no one but You cared about, been persecuted and ridiculed for You. I've fed Your sheep spiritually and physically for years (see Jn 21:15). It's all because I love You."

If we aren't good stewards and don't administer the mysteries the Lord has entrusted to us, Jesus said he would take away His graces from us and give them to others (see Mt 25:29). We see this happening as Christians in Europe and the USA lose their faith while new Christians in the third-world are showered with faith, joy, enthusiasm, power, boldness, healings, miracles, and religious vocations. When most first-world Christians failed in good stewardship, they lost their faith and God poured out His graces on others. However, if we repent, we will see God's graces return.

Rather than bury our talents in the ground, let’s consciously recognize the gifts God has given us and make a concerted effort to utilize them for God’s greater glory.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How often I failed in my duty to God, because I was not leaning on the strong pillar of prayer. --St. Teresa of Avila

“If we really understand the Eucharist, if we really centre our lives on Jesus' Body and Blood, if we nourish our lives with the Bread of the Eucharist, it will be easy for us to see Christ in that hungry one next door, the one lying in the gutter, the alcoholic man we shun, our husband or our wife, or our restless child. For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguises of the poor: Jesus in our midst.” - Mother Teresa

Gospel text (Lk 18,1-8):
Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, "There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
"Render a just decision for me against my adversary."
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
"While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.""
The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

A necessity is something that we must have or do. Otherwise, we will suffer dire consequences. For example, food is a necessity. If we don't have it, we die. Jesus teaches that it is a necessity not only to pray but to pray always (Lk 18:1). Otherwise, we will suffer dire consequences.

How can we pray always? The Spirit "helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rm 8:26). The Spirit changes the necessity of praying always from an impossible burden to a privilege and a constant miracle. To pray always is to do God's will always because we are always aware of His presence. To pray always is to abide in love and abide in God (1 Jn 4:16). To pray always is to share in heaven.

Ask Jesus to teach you to pray always (see Lk 11:1). In answer to your prayer, God the Father through Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to help you pray always. You will enter into the mystery of Trinitarian love. Pray always.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today." - Fra Giovanni

We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now--to be happy with him at this very moment. But being happy with him now means: loving as he loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him for all the twenty-four hours, touching him in his distressing disguise. -MOTHER TERESA

Gospel text (Lk 17,20-25):
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come,
Jesus said in reply,
"The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, "Look, here it is," or, "There it is."
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you."

Then he said to his disciples,
"The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
"Look, there he is," or "Look, here he is."
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation."

Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, we can say, “these are the best of times, these are the worst of times.” To one day be living in a country apparently so secure, so wealthy, so advanced, so strong, so gifted, and so blessed, and the next day to be living in the same country now so threatened, so fearful, so sorrowful, and so struggling is a mystery and a challenge. Many are asking: How can this be? What happened? Where is our God who has been with us for so long? Where do we turn, who do we trust, and what do we do? What do we tell our children and our young adults?

As I reflected on today’s Gospel, this was the verse that really grabbed my attention. If someone told me that Heaven was all around me, I do not know what I would think. When we ponder the many problems in the world, from abortion and hunger to poverty and disease, we may ask ourselves how this could reflect Heaven, a place of perfection. But perhaps it is because we merely see with our eyes. God, however, does not see with eyes like us. He sees with the eyes of the heart. What would we see if we saw life through God’s eyes rather than through our own?

Most perfectly, however, the Kingdom of God is found in the Mass. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is present every day to us in the Eucharist, yet how many times do we actually take advantage of that wonderful opportunity? The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the pinnacle of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, for God himself is truly present to us. We cannot see the great gift of the Mass through human eyes. With the eyes of humanity, we merely see neighbors and friends eating bread and wine, but with the eyes of the heart, with the eyes of Faith, we see our brothers and sisters in Christ partaking in the feast of Heaven and earth, physically holding and becoming one with Christ Jesus. He is the greatest gift we could ever receive. Yet how many times are we bored with the Mass? How many times do we wish we were making better use of our time? The Kingdom of God is literally there with us, but we never seem to notice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.--Saint Francis of Assisi

God’s invitation to become saints is for all, not just a few. Sanctity therefore must be accessible to all. In what does it consist? In a lot of activity? No. In doing extraordinary things? No, this could not be for everybody and at all times. Therefore, sanctity consists in doing good, and in doing this good in whatever condition and place God has placed us. Nothing more, nothing outside of this.--Blessed Louis Tezza

(1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17);
Brothers and sisters:
You are God's building.
According to the grace of God given to me,
like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,
for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,
namely, Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God's temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

On a daily basis I don’t think about myself being the temple of God. It’s easy to associate God’s dwelling place as the church, but in fact, every single Christian is a temple of God. The Bible says that the temple of God is holy. If we are the temples and we are holy, why do we mindlessly do so many things to dishonor and displease God? The answer is simple. We are humans and we are naturally prone to mistakes and sin. God was gracious enough to send Jesus to save us from those sins. We can’t have the mindset that we can do whatever we want today because we will be forgiven tomorrow. Because we are the place where God dwells, we need to live a life that is pleasing and honoring to him.

God is with us always no matter what. Imagine yourself handcuffed to Jesus. He is with you and he’s not going anywhere. Now wouldn’t you be a little more cautious if you could see him standing next to you watching your every move every day? The fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t take an extreme like that to make us want to do things that are pleasing to God. As Christians it shouldn’t be a burden to do things, say things, or even think things that honor him. It should be our desire to honor God in all things.

Everyone struggles with this. When I’m struggling to make the right decisions or do the right thing, I ask myself what I would do if Jesus were standing right next to me. Next time we are struggling let us ask ourselves: Would I use that kind of language around Jesus? What if Jesus could hear what I’m thinking?' Whether we ask these questions or not, as Christians God resides within us and is with us every step of the way. Let us honor him not just by our words but by our life.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit

Having chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts. - Abraham Lincoln

(Wisdom 2:23—3:9)
God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made them.
But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world,
and they who are in his possession experience it.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
They shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it.

Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive. – Mother Teresa

“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” ~Thomas à Kempis

Gospel text (Lk 17,1-6): Jesus said to his disciples,
"Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur.
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Be on your guard!
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, "I am sorry,"
you should forgive him."

And the Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."
The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."

While studying the readings for today at Mass, I noticed a common theme: God’s presence in our lives. Not just when we pray or go to church, but in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant of moments. Not just when we’re on our best behavior and doing everything as we ought, but when we disobey and ignore him.

I’m afraid we often see God as disconnected, separate from us in his Kingdom in the sky, if you will. Being reminded of his constant presence thus initially gave me pause; I did not like the idea that God was watching my every stumble and failure, knowing “when I sit and when I stand” and aware of every thought and word before it even enters my mind. To have all my shortcomings laid out, completely bare, before the one that I desire to please the most, sounds awful. I found myself wondering how I could hide, much like in Psalms 139:7, “Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence where can I flee?” My options, it appears are limited, for “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.”

But the more I read, the more I found to comfort my agitation. God may be there to see every fault and mistake, but he is also steadfastly there to pick us up again and set us on the right path. In the Responsorial Psalm, the response says, “guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.” It is a plea for God’s assistance but also a guarantee that he will always be there to help. “If I take the wings of the dawn, if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand hold me fast.” In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that as many times as another sins against us but then asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive him. This is an illustration of what God does for us; he is always there to guide and forgive us. All we have to do is ask in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

And that is a comforting thought indeed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

He who doesn't fear death dies only once

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. ~Mark Twain

Gospel text (Mt 25,1-13):
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
'Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.'
But the wise ones replied,
'No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.'
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'
But he said in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour."

Today people seek wisdom but in a different way and with different intentions. People desire power and money and one way to get there is through wisdom and knowledge. However it’s a different kind of wisdom, a worldly and self-centered wisdom rather than the divine clarity we hear about in the readings today at Mass. Our soul should be thirsting for God and his perfect truths as the response echoes today. God is the ultimate wisdom through whom we acquire any wisdom, through whom we are blessed with our minds to think with in the first place. One valuable lesson my father taught me is that we become what we think about. If we ponder God and his infinite wisdom we shall transcend our human nature and see clearly with the eyes of Christ.

This parable in the Gospel of Matthew today continues to reinforce this great wisdom we are all called to have. The distinguishing factor between the five virgins that are able to attend the wedding feast of the Lord and the five who are left behind is wisdom. The five that are wise enough to bring the extra oil along to wait for the bridegroom are prepared and waiting when he finally arrives. This may seem like an obvious foresight and a minor example of wisdom, but Jesus is pointing to so much more in this parable today. He is showing us that we must seek the wisdom of God in order to be prepared for his coming. Through our regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist God is able to pour his almighty wisdom into our hearts. He will reveal his truths to us as his wisdom “makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her...”

So today let us be found worthy and awake when the Lord comes. We know not the day or the hour; today God calls us to urgently seek him at all times.