Thursday, March 31, 2011

"A rusty nail placed near a faithful compass, will sway it"

"While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get to their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance. When the harvest was bountiful the first thought was thanksgiving to God." - Ronald Reagan National Day of Prayer, 1981

(Jer 7:23-28) Thus says the LORD:
This is what I commanded my people:
Listen to my voice;
then I will be your God and you shall be my people.
Walk in all the ways that I command you,
so that you may prosper.

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.
They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts
and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.
From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day,
I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets.
Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed;
they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers.
When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them, they will not answer you.
Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.
Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

“I’d rather not face it.” “He can’t even look me in the eye.” “I’d prefer to have a face-to-face meeting.”

We have many expressions that convey a similar truth: human communication, human relationship flourishes when we see one another’s faces. The face itself communicates. A little child who has done something wrong doesn’t want to look at Mom or Dad. To turn away one’s face is to withdraw from a relationship, to impede communication. We convey a difficult decision to someone via email, because we’d rather not do it face-to-face.

This powerful image is used by the prophet Jeremiah to describe the infidelity of Israel : “They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.” To turn one’s back on someone involves a decision, a choice to leave a relationship and pursue another path, to move out on one’s own. And, in our relationship with God, the image provides another view of what we call “sin.”

What causes us to turn our backs, not our faces, to God? Sometimes we mistakenly presume we’ll be more free in moving out on our own. Sometimes we carry a hurt that we believe God will not be capable of healing. Sometimes we believe it is easier to pretend that God does not have a face, that God is “out there,” distant, disinterested.

Jesus provides for us the face of God. Jesus provides the healing of the lie of God’s supposed disinterest in us and the rest of the world. “To have seen me is to have seen the Father,” Jesus reminds us disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the place where we can find healing in our hurt: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” And Jesus tells us that living in him, the Truth, will truly make us free.

The Word of God probes our hearts today: where have I turned from the face of God? Where have I decided to strike out on my own? Where have I believed the lie of God’s disinterest in me?

Today the grace of Lent calls to us: Lord, let us see your face and we shall be saved!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My yoke is easy and my burden is light

“If God would have wanted us to live in a permissive society He would have given us Ten Suggestions and not Ten Commandments.”

Gospel text (Mt 5:17-19): Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Today’s readings strongly emphasize the importance of God’s laws. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that the law of the Old Testament still stands. Although people of Jesus’ time may have thought that Jesus came to replace the rules of the Old Testament, Jesus states that he did not come to erase God’s commandments or to open a “back door” into heaven for his followers. Rather, Jesus came to challenge us all not only to follow God’s commandments, but to lead others to follow them as well.

How often in life do we simply go through the motions of being Christian? Sitting in Mass on Sundays, saying a quick prayer at night before falling asleep, giving up sweets or Facebook for Lent without really thinking about what Lent is all about. Jesus challenges us all to enter more fully into God’s laws. What is it that God is actually calling us to in life? What does following God’s laws, God’s commandments really mean, and how does it change our lives? We should not simply go through the motions of Christianity. Rather, as Jesus calls us to do, we must follow and enter fully into God’s commandments.

In life, we all meet hypocrites: people who promote something while not even following it themselves. The typical response to a hypocrite is as follows: “Well, I’m definitely not going to do what you’re telling me to do!” The same goes for Christianity. If we want to truly lead others towards Jesus by following God’s commandments, we cannot simply follow the rules, because people will recognize that we are not being sincere. Instead, we must enter into God’s commandments so that faith is not only going through the actions, but an easily recognized part of our lives.

Let us each take a few moments to think about ways that we can enter more fully into God’s kingdom. Are we following God’s commandments because we have to? Or have we allowed God’s commandments to enter into our lives? God wants us all to obey his commandments and lead others to follow him; he wants us to be called greatest in his Kingdom!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Truth uttered before its time is always dangerous

“Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those whom they have slain.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Gospel text (Lk 4:24-30):
Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth :
“Amen, I say to you,
no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel
in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon .
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built,
to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

Today, we hear Our Lord saying that «No prophet is honored in his own country» (Lk 4:24). These words —uttered by Jesus— have been for many of us —more than once— justification and excuse not to complicate our lives. But, in fact, Jesus Christ, only wants to warn us, his disciples, that things are not as easy as they may look and, more often than not, amongst those supposedly knowing us best, things may still become more difficult.

Jesus' assertion is the preamble of the lesson He intends to give to the people gathered in the synagogue and thus, open their eyes to the evidence that, just because they are members of the “chosen People” they have no guarantee of salvation, cure or purification (which will later be confirmed through the data of the history of salvation).

I said, however, that Jesus' assertion, for most of us, is too often, but an excuse not to “commit ourselves evangelically” in our daily chores. Yes, it belongs to those phrases we have all learned by heart and, gosh!, are they effective...!

It seems those words are recorded in our particular conscience in such a way that, when we should, in the office, at work, with our family or with our friends, within our closer social “milieu”, be making decisions understandable only to the light of the Gospel, such “magic phrase” push us backwards as if advising us: —It is not worth your while to worry, no prophet is being honored in his own country! We have the perfect excuse, the very best of justifications, for not having to give testimony, nor having to stand by that colleague whom the company is playing a dirty trick on, nor having somehow to help reconciling that married couple, who are also friends of ours.

Saint Paul addressed, instead, in the first place, his own: «And going into the synagogue, he spoke freely about three months, disputing and persuading concerning the kingdom of God» (Acts 19:8). Are you sure, it is not what Jesus meant to say to us?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

His Thirst is infinite

“On the Cross, “It is strange that he used, ’I thirst’ instead of “give me your love.” “If you listen with your heart you will hear, you will under stand.” - Mother Teresa

Gospel text (Jn 4:5-42):
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

God has created the human person for happiness. We will always be restless until we find it. However, the complete acquisition of happiness will only be fully realized in eternity.

The Samaritan woman in this Sunday's gospel narrative exemplifies the search that everyone has embarked upon. She desires the peace and the happiness that the things of this world cannot provide. The fact that the Samaritan woman is unhappy is evident from the gospel passage. She has been living a sinful life. Because of her sinful life, she does not draw water from the well located in her village. Instead, she journeys to another well that is located more than a half of a mile away. We can conclude from this fact that she was a social outcast.

In this Sunday's gospel narrative, we are struck by the fact that Jesus is tired and he stops at the well to rest. The heat is oppressive and Jesus is exhausted. Nevertheless, forgetful of his own personal needs, Jesus is absorbed by an uncontainable desire for the eternal salvation of the Samaritan woman.

This uncontainable desire for the eternal salvation of all mankind is illustrated in the beautiful words that Our Lord spoke to Saint Margaret Mary during the third apparition of his Sacred Heart, which took place on June 16, 1675. "Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this sacrament of love".

The gospel helps us to understand what allows Jesus to love us unconditionally. He is not hindered by his own personal comfort. A passion drives everything that he does. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (John 4: 34).

Just as Jesus sought the eternal salvation of the Samaritan woman, he seeks us out as well. He continually reaches out to us and desires our eternal salvation.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

“Let our judgment of souls cease, for God's mercy upon them is extraordinary”

“And even if the sins of soul are as dark as night, when the sinner turns to My mercy he gives Me the greatest praise and is the glory of My Passion.” -- St Faustina

Gospel text (Lk 15:1-3.11-32):
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable.
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

Today we see our Father's mercy. This famous Bible passage, The Prodigal Son, teach us of the great redeeming power of our Lord. He is willing to forgive us and treat us with the love and compassion that lies within him. No one in this world is perfect and sin casts over each individual. Despite the sin that lies with us, God is able to look past it and see a loving human being who has a purpose to live out on this earth.

God's ability to forgive, especially in times of personal growth and conversion is beyond our understanding. We are not privy to truly understanding the suffering or the conversion of another, so we must simply pray that God will intercede, especially in situations where we cannot control the actions/decisions of others.

«Father, I have sinned» (Lk 15:21), we wish to say it too, and feel God’s embrace in the Sacrament of Confession, while participating in the Eucharistic feast: «We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has come... back to life. He was lost and is found» (Lk 15:23-24). Thus, since «God is waiting for us —each and every day!— like that father of the parable was waiting for his prodigal son» (Saint Josemaria), let's keep on marching in with Jesus to the encounter with the Father, where all becomes clear: «The mystery of man can only be solved through the mystery of the Incarnated Word» (II Vatican Council).

I have heard this famous Gospel reading countless times, but do we really believe that God is infinitely merciful? Fifteen minutes in the confession box can make all the difference in the world! Believe it!

So today, let us realize that God is with us every step of the way.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation – The gift of pure love!

“From Mary we learn to surrender to God's will in all things. From Mary, we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary, we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God. For Mary is not only the Mother of God, she is Mother of the Church as well.” – Pope John Paul II

Gospel text (Lk 1:26-38):
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.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation of our Lord. With the angel Gabriel's announcement and Mary's acceptance of the explicit divine will of incarnating in her womb, God assumes the human condition and nature —«in everything equal to us, except for sin»— to exalt and elevate us as his sons and have us, thus, as partakers of his divine nature.

Perhaps 15 years old and alone, Mary has to answer in a way that will change the full history of mankind. Saint Bernard pleaded: «Behold, the price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life». God is awaiting an uninhibited response, and the "full of grace", representing all of us needing Redemption, responds: "génoitó", become! As of today, Mary is freely linked to the Work of her Son; today her Mediation begins. As of today, she is the Mother of those who are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

At the heart of the scriptural word for today’s liturgy is the call to every human to disclose God’s presence and plan in creation by seeking and doing God’s will on earth. The salvation of the created order depends upon its obedience to God’s plan for it. If there is any great truth in the mythic story of the “Fall” in Genesis it is that humans refused (and still often refuse) to do God’s will. The core of human sin is not about sex, it is not about consumption, or a host of other possibilities. The sin of the human race that brings about its destruction as well as our seeming enmity from one another and the rest of creation is our refusal to do God’s will.

Benedict XVI was saying in an interview: «[I would like] to reawake the courage to make definitive decisions: they are really the only ones that allow us to grow, to move ahead and to reach something great in life. They are the only decisions that do not destroy our freedom but offer to point us in the right direction. Risk making this leap, so to speak, towards the definitive and so embrace life fully: this is something I would be happy to communicate to them». Mary: behold an example!

What is it that modern man runs from and cannot face? Fear. What do we call the greatest “criminals” of our time? Terrorists – purveyors of fear. If we can turn and face and endure the depth of our fear we become open to discover what it is that God asks. Most often, as St. Ignatius of Loyola discovered, the divine will is already embedded in our own deepest desires, in our talents, our training, our opportunities, and the needs of those we love – but hidden to us under fear.

I sometimes feel the breath catch in my throat when I try to sing the response to the first reading today: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will” but I know that Grace makes it possible to both sing it and mean what I sing. Grace grants the wisdom to perceive God’s desire, the courage to follow it, the joy that springs from it – the life of the Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them"

“Those who love the poor during life will have nothing to fear at the hour of death” - St. Vincent de Paul

Gospel text (Lk 16:19-31): Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him
to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said,
‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded
if someone should rise from the dead.’

The contrast between the rich and the poor is very strong. The luxury of the rich and his indifference to the plight of poor Lazarus lying at his door, his pathetic situation, even when dogs used to come and lick his sores (cf. Lk 16:19-21). It all has a deep realism introducing us into the scene.

We might ponder, where would I be if I was one of the two main characters of the parable? Our society reminds us, constantly, that we have to live well, in comfort and well-being, enjoying ourselves, worry free... To live for oneself, without minding others, or at the very best, the minimum necessary to keep one's conscience at ease, but certainly not because of a sense of justice, love or solidarity.

Today, we are presented with the need to listen to God in this life, to convert ourselves and take advantage of the time He offers us. God will eventually call us to account. In this life we risk our eternal life.

Jesus is quite explicit about the reality of Hell and He describes some of its characteristics: the sorrow senses suffer —«and send Lazarus with the tip of his finger dipped in water to cool my tongue, for I suffer so much in this fire» (Lk 16:24)— and its eternity —«Between your place and ours a great chasm has been fixed» (Lk 16:26).

Saint Gregory the Great tells us that «all these things are told so that nobody may apologize because of their ignorance». We have got to get rid of the old man and be free to be able to love our fellow man. We have to react to the suffering of the poor, the unwell or the forsaken. It would be good if we frequently remembered this parable, to make us more responsible. We will all have to face the moment of death.

Use wealth compassionately and prepare for heaven on earth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anyone can be great…..Because anyone can serve

“It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.” – Mother Teresa

Gospel text (Mt 20:17-28):
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied,
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Today, the Church, in this Lenten time —inspired by the Holy Spirit— proposes a text where Jesus suggests to his disciples —and, accordingly, to all of us— a change in mentality. Today, Jesus changes the human and earthly mentality of his disciples and opens up a new horizon of understanding concerning a new style of life for his followers.

We have a natural tendency towards a desire to dominate or subjugate things and people, to command and to order, to have things done as per our wishes, to have others accept our status, our position. But, now, Jesus is proposing to us just the opposite: «Whoever wants to be more important in your group shall make himself your servant» (Mt 20:26-27). “Servant”, “slave”: we cannot just take these words at their face value!; we have heard them hundreds of times, sure, but now we must be able to assimilate the reality of what they actually mean, and confront it with our attitude and behavior.

The II Vatican Council asserts «that man achieves his prime of life through dedication and commitment to others». We may be under the impression we are giving away life, but, in fact, we are retrieving it. He who does not live to serve does not serve to live. And, in this attitude Christ should be our perfect model —Jesus is fully man—, inasmuch as «the Son of man has come, not to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many» (Mt 20:28).

To become a servant, a slave, as Jesus calls us upon, is something almost impossible for us. It falls short of our weak will: so we are to implore, to hope for and to profoundly wish these gifts are granted to us. Lent and its Lenten practices —fasting, charity and prayer— remind us that to receive these gifts we have to prepare ourselves adequately.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To sin is a human business; to justify sins is a devilish business

"If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive. People ask me what advice I have for a married couple struggling in their relationship. I always answer: pray and forgive. And to young people from violent homes, I say pray and forgive. And again even to the single mother with no family support: pray and forgive” - Mother Teresa

(Isaiah 1:10, 16-20)
Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom !
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah !

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
But if you refuse and resist,
the sword shall consume you:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

Today’s scripture readings seem to speak of sin, confession and forgiveness. The Lord speaks through Isaiah to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (two pretty sinful places) telling them, Wash yourselves clean! Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. The psalmist proclaims, To the upright I will show the saving power of God. And in Matthew, Jesus tells the people, do not follow the example of the scribes and the Pharisees who do not practice what they preach.

There’s a beautiful song out right now called What Love Really Means by J J Heller. It tells the poignant, heart rending story of three broken people crying out to God. Each pleads in the refrain; Who will love me for me? Not for what I have done or what I’ll become. Who will love me for me? Nobody has shown me what love really means.

I think all of us have been somewhere at some time in our lives where we were convinced that no one could love us, not even God. That we had done something that God could not forgive. That we had placed ourselves beyond the reach of God’s love. The Good News is that this is not true. There is no place beyond God’s reach. There is no corner so dark that the light of God cannot shine there. There is no sin that God can’t forgive.

Confession is a painful thing. Having to admit we’ve screwed up or done something wrong. I mean, it’s not like God doesn’t already know, so what’s the point? Isaiah understands the point. I love the images in Isaiah. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow. Sin is like dirt, filth and slime. It covers me and, on my own, I just cannot seem to get it off of me. I have this mental picture of God holding a fire hose. When I say I’m sorry to God, I had better be ready, because the sin is going to vanish in the blink of an eye. Things are going to change.

By the by, the song has a joyful ending where God declares His love for each of us. I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you’ll become. I will love you for you.

In this season of Lent, here’s something to think about. If God didn’t love you, why did Jesus come to earth? My prayer is for all of us to have a fruitful Lenten season where our relationship with God grows and deepens. Where we recognize just how much God really loves us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In each of us there is a little of all of us

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

(Lk 6:36-38): Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Today’s readings revolve around the theme of judgment. Jesus tells us the measure by which we judge others shall be used against us. We are to use caution in how we think about others, how we forgive others, and to use care if we condemn others’ actions. This seems to be fairly straightforward, but nearly impossible to follow.

It is only human nature to look upon others and compare them to ourselves, to measure ourselves against those around us. Many times I find myself falling into this trap. How do I measure up against someone else? Am I better or worse than that person? We can’t help but observe others and make comparisons. Comparisons, though, are not always a bad thing. Its fruits or detrimental impact really comes down to motivation. What is it that is motivating us when looking at others? Is it to become a better person, or is it to prop ourselves up?

More times than not in my life, after sinning, I will console myself by looking at the actions of others. I think to myself that my actions are really not that bad in comparison to what someone else might be doing or has done. Therefore, what I did really isn’t that bad. That’s where comparisons can go wrong. If, however, we look at the life of a saint or a holy person we know, and that example drives us to try to become more truly the type of man or woman God wants us to be, then that comparison is a good thing. It can help us to see what we can do to live out the Gospel more effectively than before. This requires real introspection. If our self-examination is driven by our love of self, then we are doomed to always make these bad comparisons: relativistic judgments that will never cause us to make change for the better. We will forever remain in our ruts of sin. But when it is driven by our love of God, not of ourselves, then we can make real change.

This requires turning to God through the sacraments, especially Reconciliation. We have the opportunity now during this season of Lent to embrace the compassion of God by utilizing confession. It is up to us whether we want to take him up on his offer of forgiveness. With a more truly critical self-examination, we will better be able to follow Jesus's simple words of not judging others, and strive to become better people.

Jesus has shown us the way, and the saints have shown us it is possible. Let us pray during this second week of Lent for the saints’ intercession to have the strength to take a hard look at our lives, to take steps to become better people for God, and to look at ourselves using His standards, not the standard of others.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Everyone wants to transform, but nobody wants to change

The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn't detect. - MARK TWAIN

Gospel text (Mt 17:1-9):
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Transfiguration account on this Second Sunday of Lent invites us to reflect on what this all can mean for us - right now. This event on the Mountain was meant to strengthen the faith of these three disciples. They were about to witness the events that would lead their Lord and Master along what would appear to be an ignominious path, up Golgotha´s lonely hill, to be crucified, a fate reserved for common criminals. Their own faith would be shaken, tested and tried. He loved all who were His own in this world (John 13:1). Yes, as so many beautiful writings in the Tradition remind us, the Lord wanted to encourage them - and to encourage us.

On that Mountain, Jesus revealed before mortal eyes the Transcendent Truth of who He is - and who Peter, James and John ...and each one of us - will become in Him. They were invited to exercise their freedom and embrace the path that He had prepared. So are we, right now. He was grounding them in the eternal Truth, and opening up for the countless millions who would hear this story from their faithful witness a glimpse of the Glory that is to come as we also choose Him in our daily lives.

The Lord Jesus has shown us the way up the mountain. He has invited us into a new way of living in Him through living within the communion of the Church. Living in that Church we are invited to go into the world and invite all men and women, through the waters of the womb of Baptism, into the new communion of love where they can begin the process of conversion and transfiguration. Born again, we are all invited to join with Peter, James and John and cry out in our day: "It is good for us to be here."

As we reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus on this Second Sunday of Lent, let us enter more deeply into the mystery by living in the Transfiguration now. It truly is good for us to be here. Let us draw encouragement from the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ and respond to the invitations of grace in our daily lives in order to grow more fully into the Image and likeness of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord revealing His Transfigured glory to a world waiting to be born anew. Our Lenten observance is an invitation into an ongoing transformation in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Today is the Feast Day of St Joseph - THE ULTIMATE "YES MAN"

“Whether the journey is long or short, smooth or rough; whether or not the goal is within the range of human eye; whether our pace is fast or slow, with you, Joseph, we are sure of always going the right way.” - St. Joseph Marello

In an age that has lost its way, given over to the selfish pursuit of illusory pleasure, Joseph should again be lifted up as a model, particularly to men who desire to follow Jesus Christ. In popular language we sometimes use an expression to refer to men who are comfortable "in their skin" and content with being men. We say of such a man "He is a man´s man". Well, Joseph is a true "man´s man." He was a man of few words, he spoke through his actions, and he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded. We need fewer words and more action from godly men in this hour of need.

Joseph was a man for others. Though the Scriptures say little about Joseph, even that absence speaks volumes. Why? Because to Joseph, he was not the one who was important, others were. He loved Mary above himself and his behavior was called "just" in the Scriptures as a result of his love. He was prepared to "do the right thing" when she was found to be with child. He could have chosen otherwise. How refreshing this upright manly behavior is in an age where men too often cower in the face of difficulty and compromise out of cowardice.

Joseph was a man of faith and courage. Along with loving his betrothed, he loved His God courageously. He had a close, intimate personal relationship with the God of His Fathers. In fact, this "just" man was, in a sense, the last Patriarch, completing the lineage. Through his response of faith, He would receive the great gift promised for all men and women and hold in His arms the One that His fathers had only longed to see.

Joseph was a humble man. There was not an ounce of false bravado or "machismo" in this servant of God. Named after the great Patriarch who was sold into slavery in Egypt; he bore the name with similar humility. As the Old Testament Joseph embraced his lot, rejecting the temptation to bitterness or "victim-hood" and actually came to rule Egypt, forgiving the very brothers who had sold him into slavery; so too this son of the Covenant embraced the One who would establish the ...New Covenant on the altar of Calvary. In so doing, Joseph is a patron and a model to all men who choose to walk the way of the cross in the footsteps of Jesus. Joseph poured Himself out -of himself - and became filled with the love and life of God.

The Lord still invites men to turn the ordinary into extraordinary through cooperation with God and participation in His Divine plan. The Lord is truly looking for a "few good men" like Joseph who will work in the workshop of the world that he created in order to recreate it anew in His Son.

In this age of the "anti-hero", men should rediscover this true hero, this "man´s man" named Joseph. Then, we should learn his way of obedience, following his example by courageously, humbly and faithfully loving Jesus Christ. We need to learn to give our "Yes" to the God whose Love always invites our participation. Joseph is our teacher on this way, a true 'Man´s Man', calling all men to follow Jesus.

Friday, March 18, 2011

By his own resources, the creature cannot possibly comprehend his Creator

"Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand." — St Augustine

(Ez 18:21-28) Thus says the Lord GOD:
If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed,
if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him;
he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.
Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked?
says the Lord GOD.
Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way
that he may live?

And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil,
the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does,
can he do this and still live?
None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered,
because he has broken faith and committed sin;
because of this, he shall die.
You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel :
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed,
does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.

We oftentimes hear the complaint, “The Lord’s way is not fair.” Maybe in not so many words, but with the same objection we often ask the simple question: “WHY?” A loved one has a sudden heart attack, a teenager is killed in an auto accident, and a close companion can’t find a job. These are but a few of the occasions that find us searching for God’s answer. Just listen to the spontaneous outcry at the moment of an accident or tragedy for the bystanders’ expletive; “Oh my God!” It’s almost as if their first reaction was; “why did God program this catastrophe?” He didn’t.

The simple explanation is that these are purely the shortcomings of human nature and/or the mistakes people made with the freedom God allows them to exercise. God hardly ever nullifies the laws of nature to make up for these inadequacies of nature or failures in using human freedom correctly.

However, in the moral order our reading from Ezekiel wants us to know that God’s judgment of us is an instantaneous, on-going activity. God doesn’t keep a balance sheet of our good deeds and evil actions like your friendly bank keeps a record of debits and credits. We often times reason that as long as we keep the good deeds (credits) ahead of the evil deeds (debits) we ought to be God’s special chosen ones for eternal glory. This is the human way of reasoning which people believe would be more fair. It might be true in the human way of justice but it’s far from God’s plan of mercy. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? “says the Lord God.” Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?

Simply put, God’s way says that if a person rejects his life of evil and he turns back to the Lord that person will live. And if the virtuous man turns from his way of virtuous deeds and accepts the way of evil he will surely die. This is why the Lenten Season is so important in the plans of God. It should convince us of what a tremendous grace he provides for us by asking us to participate in the Lenten observance. Lent is the season of God’s mercy. It’s God’s way and the fairest way to welcome back any of us who have allowed our lives to stray from him in careless ways or by unfortunate tragic turns

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nothing fits the void in your life until God is there by your choice

In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for "finding himself." If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. - Thomas Merton

(Mt 7:7-12) Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”

Today, Jesus reminds us of the need and power of prayer. We cannot understand our Christian life without being related to God, and in this relationship, prayer takes a central place. While we live in this world, we Christians find ourselves on a pilgrimage road, but our prayer gets us closer to God, opens up the door of his immense love and brings forward the Heaven delights. This is why, our Christian life is a constant request and search: «Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened» (Mt 7:7), says Jesus to his disciples.

At the same time, the prayer gradually turns a stone heart into a flesh heart: «As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!» (Mt 7:11). The best summary we can ask God can be found in Our Lord's Prayer: «Your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as in heaven» (cf. Mt 6:10). We, therefore, cannot ask just anything in our prayers, but something which is really for our own good. If nobody wants to hurt himself, we should not want any damage for others, either.

We, sometimes, fail to see God's concern for us, for we find our prayers seemingly unanswered or may even feel God does not love us. In such moments, it will do us good to remember this advice from Saint Jerome: «It is certain God gives to he, who asks, that he, who seeks, finds, and that he, who knocks, will be opened: It is clearly seen that he, who has not received, who has not found, who has not been opened, is just because he did not know how to ask, how to seek nor how to knock at the door». Let us, therefore, ask God, in the first place, to give us a loving heart just like that of Jesus Christ.

I think the essence of faith is trusting that God knows our needs better than we do and trusting that our prayers may be answered in ways we cannot anticipate. Often we will see God’s wisdom only in retrospect.

I wonder if God sometimes sends us challenges to prepare us to cope with greater difficulties ahead. In hindsight, we may even see that our greatest difficulties led to far greater good or happiness than we could ever have imagined. The bottom line: when we are faced with adversity, instead of asking God “why me” or “how could you let this happen to me,” we should try to trust that a greater good or hidden purpose will emerge as God’s most recent gift to us.

P.S. And a Happy St. Paddy’s Day to all – Today everyone is Irish even us Italians!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“When prodigals return great things are done”

"God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination." — St Augustine

(Jon 3:1-10) The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh ,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh ,
according to the LORD’s bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh ,
he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe,
covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.
Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh ,
by decree of the king and his nobles:
“Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep,
shall taste anything;
they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.
Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God;
every man shall turn from his evil way
and from the violence he has in hand.
Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath,
so that we shall not perish.”
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time ….” (Jonah 3:1). The first time the word of the LORD came to Jonah, he tried to run away. Of course, that ended badly, as he ended up in the soup – almost in a fish soup, actually! But God did not give up on Jonah; He sends his word again, giving Jonah a second chance. I like having second chances, don’t you?

If we keep reading, we find that the people and the king of Nineveh not only listened, but repented. To their credit, they did not need to be told twice. Sadly, we learn later in the book that Jonah is not pleased with this development. I have always found this story to be delightful and even humorous at times, as Jonah provides a mirror in which we can see ourselves and our weaknesses. Why is it so hard for us to give others a second chance, even though we like to be on the receiving end?

We all have blind spots. Sometimes we are just not sufficiently cognizant of our own faults and we make a mistake by being too hard on others for theirs. We may be right about those faults, but remember we all need mercy. As the Psalmist explains, “A heart contrite and humbled, O Lord, you will not spurn.” The people of Nineveh surely demonstrated this truth. May God give us this kind of heart attitude, which allows us not only to receive mercy ourselves, but also to delight in mercy for others.

Like Jonah, we are also limited in our capacity to see the big picture. Consternation and discouragement may follow when things don’t seem to go our way. Sometimes other people behave badly and they disappoint us. The hurt is real, and as humans it is not easy to get beyond it. With the lens of faith, we can sometimes discern that God’s purposes are somehow being accomplished even when things don’t go our way. It is just difficult to see this in the fog of our frustration. We need time and distance – sometimes lots of it. Query how Jonah’s outlook might have changed if he had known that his preaching would become part of an object lesson used by the Lord, as reflected in today’s gospel?

Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:29-32) contains a stern warning. Jesus does not mince words with these folks who have the light of truth in their midst, but who do not pay attention to the light they have. In our modern times, this also seems to be the case. New threats to marriage and the family, to the value of life, and to human dignity have emerged, to name a few. Cultures that have benefitted from the presence of light are now not only ignoring it, but are seeking to suppress it. The Gospel is reminding us that we who have light in our midst need to be especially vigilant about living faithfully. May God grant to each of us discernment and courage to be bearers of the light of Christ.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There is a big difference between saying prayers and praying

The third petition of the Lord's Prayer is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone's will be done but their own. -- Aldous Huxley

(Mt 6:7-15) Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

The Church gives us the Lord’s Prayer as a Gospel reading twice each year. It deserves much more prayerful reflection than the auto-pilot response we commonly give it. Apart from Jesus’ impassioned plea for unity among His followers (John 17:21), this is the only instruction that we have from Jesus about what we ought to pray for. He tells us to ask God to inaugurate God’s reign, God’s way of doing things, on earth (as in heaven). We too easily slip into thinking of God’s reign as something for the hereafter. But it’s this world that God wants to set right, the world that God found “good” at creation. We’re the ones who have perverted God’s plan for creation. It’s not within our power, unaided, to repair the mess we’ve made of it.. So we have to ask God to impose God’s ways on our world – to do it through us and with our cooperation.

There is material for a whole year of reflections in the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, but let’s concentrate, for today, on just the last two.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Why? Two reasons: God has first forgiven us; and forgiveness and self-giving are precisely what the life of the kingdom is all about. Forgiving is not a test to see if we’re worthy. We’re not worthy – never could be on our own. There is ingrained in human nature the tendency to think that we have to earn God’s favor, that there are conditions we have to meet. It is expressed in the ancient heresy, Pelagianism – refuted by St. Augustine , but never completely extirpated from the Christian mindset. God’s reign is precisely one of forgiving – God of us, and we of one another – forever. But is forgiving even possible for us? Emphatically, yes, through God’s life in us by virtue of our Baptisms. It is God’s forgiving that we live on earth, as does God in heaven.

And lead us not into temptation.

[Or “do not put us to the test”, as in both Matthew and Luke.] Jesus is not speaking here of personal temptation. He is speaking of the wrenching disruption that will accompany the inauguration of God’s reign for our world. Children will be against parents, parents against children, brother against brother. All of our cherished human value systems and social structures will be turned upside down. The Gospels are emphatic about that. We ask God to help us through this time of trial, to help us choose God’s way over human ways. But this is not just at some remote, future time. It’s now. In every act of self-giving, of justice, God’s reign is coming now. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to act through us to bring about His kingdom.

During Lent, the Church is asking us to deepen in our prayers. «The prayer, our colloquy with God, is our best treasure, because it means (...) being united to him» (Saint John Crisostom). Oh Lord! I need to learn how to pray and how to draw specific benefits for my own life. Mostly to live the virtue of charity: the prayer gives me strength to live it better every day. And this is why I ask him daily to help me to forgive not only the small troubles I may have to face from others but, also, the offensive words and attitudes and, more than that, to bear no malice to my fellow men, so that I can sincerely tell them I have forgiven from the bottom of my heart those who are in debt with me. I will be able to achieve it because God's Mother will help me at all times.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blessed be Jesus in the Poorest of the Poor

“Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: "Neither would I. If it were the case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for the love of God." – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

(Mt 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 these 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.”

"When did we see you hungry or thirsty? When did we see you naked or homeless? When did we encounter you sick or imprisioned?" It appears that these will be the questions we will all ask on Judgment Day. However, some of us will say that though we didn't know it was Jesus, we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and gave refuge to the homeless. Without knowing it was Jesus, we took care of the sick and visited those in prison. And, the rest of us will say, that because we didn't know it was him, we failed to do these things. That's the parable. And, what a relief it is that Jesus tells us this story revealing to us, that whenever we care in this way to the "least" of our brothers and sisters, we care for him. He has so identified himself with us, all of us, that he can make this powerful revelation.

The stunning reality now is, that at the Last Judgment, there will be a lot of us who have heard this parable. We heard what he said about what will be asked of us in this life for our salvation. What will our defense be, if we haven't cared for the hungery, thirsty, naken, homeless, sick or imprisioned? We'll probably have to say, "I guess I forgot." Or, we might say, "I guess it didn't sink in or I didn't believe you that we'd really be judged by this neglect of the poor." "We might get very honest and say, "In spite of the parable I heard year after year, I never really believed I was my brother's keeper. I believed every person should take care of himself or herself. I believed that I worked hard for what I got and I just didn't think I owed anything to any one, other than the taxes I pay and the donations I make to charity. I guess I even judged the poor as somehow deserving of their fate." Some of us might try to bargain with God, saying, "Lord, I don't think the priests and the bishops made a big enough case about the poor, as I remember it. I never got the message that you really meant this. I got more wrapped up in worrying about my own pocketbook, about thinking my taxes were too high, that it wasn't my responsibility to care for the poor."

Does Jesus really mean this? I think he does. I think that if we listen to his whole message, if we watch the witness of his whole life, this is all of one consistent message. When we step back and look at the world around us, it can't be possible that it is God's will that the world stay the way it is now - with a few having so much and the vast majority of humanity having so little. It can't be that this is exactly the way God wants it. When we pray, "May your Kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," we are praying for a radical change in our world, for a radical change in our hearts.

As far as the teaching of the Church goes, the clear and consistent message of Catholic Social Teaching and in dozens of encyclicals going back hundreds of years, most especially by Pope John Paul II, clearly call us to live this message Jesus in our world today. The II Vatican Council, in the Gaudium et spes, when explaining the demands of Christian charity, which confer a meaning to the so called social assistance, says: «In our time, it becomes especially pressing our duty to come as close as possible to any man in need and to serve him with affection, whether the elder forsaken by all, or the baby, born out of an illegitimate union, who is exposed to pay for a sin he has not committed, or the starving, who appeals to our conscience by bringing to our memory the words of our Lord: ‘Truly, I say to you: whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:40)».

Certainly, none of us can change the world alone. But, in this first week of Lent, we have something to pray about. Our first lesson for Lent is about what we are called to do, in order to receive the gift of everylasting life. We can ask for the grace to be renewed, to be made freer. And we can begin to practice noticing the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned among us. They are not our enemy. They are the Body of Christ with us. We can let ourselves be drawn to the new face of Jesus we see. How can we get to know people who are poor? Where can we visit them or learn more about them? What will this renewed compassion and understanding mean for our standing up for the poor, for our positions on programs for the poor, for the renewal of the way we care for the sick and the imprisoned? We can practice, perhaps through almsgiving, perhaps with a self-examination and some research these weeks, of how we can realign some of our priorities, perhaps live more simply, and act more justly on behalf of those in need. It is not only the right thing to do, but Jesus tells us that if we try to save ourselves, we will lose ourselves, but it we lose ourselves, we will find ourselves. As we hear today, our salvation depends upon it.

Let us beg the Virgin Mary for her help in our acts of service to her Son in our brothers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

“Better shun the bait than struggle in the snare”

When tempted, invoke your Angel. he is more eager to help you than you are to be helped! Ignore the devil and do not be afraid of him: He trembles and flees at the sight of your Guardian Angel.--St. John Bosco

(Mt 4:1-11) At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.

Pope John Paul II says «Each year, the Lenten Season is set before us as a good opportunity for the intensification of prayer and penance, opening hearts to the docile welcoming of the divine will. During Lent, a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is done primarily by listening to the Word of God more devoutly and by practicing mortification more generously, thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need».

Lent and today's Gospel teach us that life is a path leading us to Heaven. «Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert that He be put to the test by the devil» (Mt 4:1). By allowing him to be tempted, Jesus wanted to show us how we can fight and overcome our temptations: with our trust in God and in prayer, through grace and fortitude.

Temptations may be described as the “enemies of the soul”. In fact, they can be summarized and determined by three aspects. In the first place, “the world”: «order these stones to turn into bread» (Mt 4:3). It implies living to possess material things only.

Secondly, “the devil”: «if you kneel and worship me» (Mt 4:9). It conveys the greed for power.

And, last but not least, “the flesh”: «throw yourself down» (Mt 4:6), which means placing our confidence only in our body. St. Thomas Aquinas explains it better when saying that «the cause of temptations are the causes of concupiscence: the pleasures of the flesh, a drive for glory and the lust for power».

If we keep things straight then this will be a joyful season even when we look honestly at how easily we fall to greed, pride and false identities. To be prayerfully honest does not mean being negative, depressed, or dropping out of the journey.

“The Lord will overshadow you, and you will find refuge under his wings.”(Ps. 91,4)

In order, for the above words from the Book of Psalms to occur in your life, you must do your part, open the door wide for Christ.

May Our Lady show us the way!

Friday, March 11, 2011

When you learn not to want things so badly, life comes to you

"In detachment, the spirit finds quiet and repose for coveting nothing. Nothing wearies it by elation, and nothing oppresses it by dejection, because it stands in the center of its own humility." - Saint John of the Cross

(Is 58:1-9a)Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

Today’s reading from Isaiah is disconcerting. We know that the traditional three pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Is Isaiah discouraging fasting?

Isaiah does indeed condemn the fasting he observes among the elites of Israel . In no uncertain terms he declares that their fasting is worthless because it is a mere external observance and does not seem to reach the level of their hearts: “Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with the wicked claw.”

But Isaiah wants to set the record straight. He exhorts the Israelites to fast but to fast in a manner that leads to conversion of heart — to compassion: “This rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Isaiah’s exhortation is as important for us as it was for the Israelites. The goal of fasting is not simply to punish our bodies by limiting sensual pleasures. Simply depriving oneself of food and drink and of material comforts can lead to a certain smugness and self-righteousness. The true goal of fasting is to break excessive attachment to material gratification so our souls are more free to fulfill the purpose of our lives -- loving God and our neighbor. And we all need to fast; it is a universal human tendency to become attached to material and sensual gratification and to be cut off from the deeper yearnings of our hearts. By cutting back on sensual gratification we can restore balance in our lives.

Ignatius of Loyola puts it succinctly and simply: We human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord; all things on the face of the earth are created to help us fulfill our end; we must use them only to the extent they help us toward our end.

We have fasted well when our inordinate attachment to creature comforts is broken and our inner freedom is restored: ”Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!”

During Lent we fast and pray for the grace of inner freedom and deeper conversion of heart!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You will see that your sacrifices will make you a stronger and happier person

“Only to the extent that someone is living out this self transcendence of human existence is he truly human or does he become his true self. He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self's actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.” - Viktor Frankl (Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist. 1905-1997)

(Gospel - Lk 9:22-25)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected
by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Then he said to all,“If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”

Here on the second day of Lent, many of us might be thinking of what we might “give up” for Lent. If we began this practice as children, we might remember giving up chocolate, television or desserts. But as we grow older, we might be looking for something with more meaning to it. This Lent might be a time to “give up” something that will make us different persons 40 days from now.

For some, it might be giving up gossip. Each morning in Lent – and many times during the day - we can pray to God to give us the grace to refrain from repeating stories about other people. How about negative comments or sarcasm? Can I pray for the grace to stop myself from saying something negative?

Or what about my spouse? Have I gotten lazy in the relationship? I could beg Jesus each morning to help me to do something kind for my spouse that day – something tiny like making him coffee, putting a note in her briefcase, an unexpected hug and kiss.

For the people in all of our lives who drive us crazy: could we give up fretting about them all the time? Could we say a small prayer each day for the person who makes us crazy?

Doing any one of these things faithfully and faith-fully for six weeks will change our lives and the lives of others around us. It is part of what God is inviting us to this Lent: a chance to make myself a better person and a chance to connect each day with God.

Jesus asks today, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” For the next six weeks of this Lenten season, we can truly find ourselves by giving up our own needs and desires and focusing on the lives of others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

As we begin this Lent, God's word for today is "now."

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself” – St Peter Chrysologus

(Gospel Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

What seems hopeless to you? Where is the destruction so great and the time so late? Jesus promises: "Even now," your marriage can be restored. "Even now," you can recover your health. "Even now," our country can be freed from the curse of shedding the innocent blood of aborted babies. "Even now," our lukewarm and sinful loved ones can be renewed. "Even now," Jesus can free us from years of compulsive behavior. "Even now," we can repent of the sins we have always rationalized. "Even now," we can accept God's grace to forgive. During these forty days we are invited into the desert with the Lord to do battle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Sin has fractured our freedom. The Cross is the Splint sent from heaven to set us free. Lent is a time to apply the splint and learn to walk again.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "In man, true freedom is an "outstanding manifestation of the divine image" (CCC #212) However, as a result of sin our freedom was fractured. Again the Catechism reminds us that "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC #1734) That last phrase is from the Apostle Paul. (Romans 6:17) That same Apostle reminds us that "it was for freedom that Christ set us free". (Gal. 5:1)

In Lent, the desert comes searching for us. Beyond the din arises the emptiness. It takes a certain kind of time to listen. In Lent we are called into the presence behind the words to realize how we are not alone. Living can break us down into pieces but we come back together again in different ways. Sometimes it is in the square where people cry out for justice and the cry is heard around the world. Sometimes it is the desert where the words of love are heard again.

The ashen crosses on our foreheads are not marks of passivity or despair, but signs of hope. We believe that "now" is "new" and that "even now" there is hope. Lent means "springtime." Repentance evokes rejoicing (Lk 15:7, 10, 32). Fasting leads to freedom (Is 58:6). The cross is the tree of life. Therefore, "now" and "even now," let us return to the Lord with all our hearts (Jl 2:12).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Separation of Church & State was not intended to mean elimination of the Church by the State

"Any political movement directed against any body of our fellow-citizens because of their religious creed is a grave offense against American principles and American institutions. It is a wicked thing either to support or oppose a man because of the creed he possesses. . . . Such a movement directly contravenes the spirit of the Constitution itself." - President Theodore Roosevelt:

Gospel (Mk 12:13-17)
Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent
to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech.
They came and said to him,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.
You do not regard a person’s status
but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or should we not pay?”
Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them,
“Why are you testing me?
Bring me a denarius to look at.”
They brought one to him and he said to them,
“Whose image and inscription is this?”
They replied to him, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.

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

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

It is always a time for choice before us, a time for conversion, a time to “replace” our life again in the dynamics of God. Our prayer, and specially the prayer made by God's Word, will gradually uncover for us what God expects of us. He who opts for God becomes God's dwelling place, for «if a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him» (Jn 14:23). And prayer becomes the true school where, as Tertulian says, «Christ teaches us which was the Father's purpose which He was carrying out in this world, and what a man's ethical behavior should be so that it is in agreement with this very purpose». If only we would succeed in choosing the right way that suits us!

Let us ask Our Lady to help us

Monday, March 7, 2011

“First, they ignore it, then they laugh at it, then they say they knew it all along”

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. - St Augustine

Gospel text (Mk 12:1-12): Jesus began to speak to the chief priests, the scribes and the elders in parables. «A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press and built a watch tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenants and went abroad.

»In due time he sent a servant to receive from the tenants his share of the fruit. But they seized the servant, struck him and sent him back empty-handed. Again the man sent another servant. They also struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent another and they killed him. In the same way they treated many others; some they struck and others they killed. One was still left, his beloved son. And so, last of all, he sent him to the tenants, for he said: ‘They will respect my son’. But those tenants said to one another: ‘This is the one who is to inherit the vineyard. Let's kill him and the property will be ours’. So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

»Now, what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others». And Jesus added, «Have you not read this text of the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the keystone. This was the Lord's doing; and we marvel at it’».

They wanted to arrest him for they realized that Jesus meant this parable for them, but they were afraid of the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Today, our Lord invites us to have a walk on his vineyard: «A man planted a vineyard (…) and (…) he leased the vineyard to tenants» (Mk 12,1). We are all tenants of this vineyard. The vineyard is our own soul, the Church and the whole world. God wants fruits from us. First, our personal holiness; then, a constant apostolate with our friends, who will be encouraged by our example and word to get closer to Christ every day; finally, the world, that will become a better place to live in, if we sanctify our professional work, our social relations and our duties towards the common good.

What kind of tenants are we? Those who work hard or those who get annoyed when the master sends his servants to collect the rent from us? We may oppose those in charge of helping us give the fruits God expects. We may object to the teachings of the Holy Church and of the Pope, the bishops, or perhaps, more modestly, those of our parents, our spiritual director, or a good friend of ours who is trying to help us. We may even become aggressive, and try to wound them or even kill them through criticism and negative comments. We should examine ourselves about the real motives of such an attitude on our part. Maybe we need a deeper knowledge of our Faith; maybe we need a deeper knowledge of ourselves, a better examination of conscience to discover the reason why we do not want to produce fruits.

Let us ask Our Mother Mary to help us work with love under the guidance of the Pope. We can all be “good shepherds” and “fishers” of men. «Let us (…) ask the Lord to help us to bear fruit, a fruit that abides. Only thus is the earth transformed from a vale of tears into a garden of God » (Benedict XVI). We can carry our souls, or that of our friends, or the whole world closer to Jesus Christ, if we only read and meditate the teaching of the Holy Father, and try to put them into practice.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Love cannot remain by itself -- it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service - Mother Teresa

Gospel text (Mt 7:21-27): «Not everyone who says to me: ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my heavenly Father. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not speak in your name? Did we not cast out devils and perform many miracles in your name?’. Then I will tell them openly: ‘I have never known you; away from me, you evil people!’.

»So, then, anyone who hears these words of mine and acts accordingly is like a wise man, who built his house on rock. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house, but it did not collapse because it was built on rock. But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not act accordingly, is like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain poured, the rivers flooded, and the wind blew and struck that house; it collapsed, and what a terrible fall that was!».

Today, we perceive that Jesus requires from us not only that we listen to his Word but, —most of all— that we consistently hold on to it. Our faith must be lived «but in deed and truth» (1Jn 3:18) is something that has been proclaimed from the very beginning of Christianity. But our Pontiff Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe salvi, recalled it —we might say— in a modern language: «the Christian message is not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known; it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing».

«I have never known you!» (Mt 7:23): God forbid we should ever have to listen one day to such stern words! We should pay attention to something that, eventually, may surprise us: Jesus Christ is personally concerned by our response (or “non-response”) of faith; out of it He makes an issue of special distress. And it is the least to be expected: Christianity is not an ideology, or a simple ethics program; it is, above all, a personal commitment with Somebody. Along this same line, John Paul II emphasized that «Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality».

It is very appropriate the likeness of the man «who built his house on sand»: irrational men, defeated men! (cf. Mt 7:26-27). A society without God (or that, in practice, walks out on the law of God) is a stranded society because it lacks the “driving power” of hope. When man gets away from God, man also gets away from man. On the other hand, «Happy those (…) for whom the law of the Lord is their joy; (…) they are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers» (Psalm 1:1-3).

Saturday, March 5, 2011


The wisdom of the saints may seem dark and forbidding. But all saints learn that the one and only path to complete freedom and joy comes in a total surrender of self to the will of God, so that we might become all He created us to be.

Gospel text (Mk 11:27-33): They were once again in Jerusalem. As Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the elders came to him and asked, «What authority do you have to act like this? Who gave you authority to do the things you do?». Jesus said to them, «I will ask you a question, only one, and if you give me an answer, then I will tell you what authority I have to act like this. Was John's preaching and baptism a work of God, or was it merely something human? Answer me».

And they kept arguing among themselves, «If we answer that it was a work of God, He will say: ‘Why then did you not believe him?’». But neither could they answer before the people that the baptism of John was merely something human, for everyone regarded John as a prophet. So they answered Jesus, «We don't know», and Jesus said to them, «Neither will I tell you what authority I have to act as I do».

Like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, we have many questions to ask Jesus about His authority. We ask Jesus if He will exercise His authority to heal cancer, restore a broken marriage, bring a paralytic out of a wheelchair, or free a person from mental illness. Jesus said: "Full authority has been given to Me both in heaven and on earth" (Mt 28:18). Yet how can His authority be applied to the pressing problems of our lives?

Jesus will answer all our questions about His authority if we first answer His question about John's baptism of repentance (Mk 11:29-30). We must come under the authority of Jesus through repentance and obedience. Then we can not only have our questions answered but can even move in the authority of the Lord. In fact, we can even do greater by far than Jesus ever did (Jn 14:12).

However, we are a stiff-necked and rebellious people. We don't even want to hear about repentance — much less do it. We desperately need someone to minister to us — to open our hearts (Lk 2:35), teach, and mother us. Mothers have a way of helping their children obey. On this Saturday when we honor our Blessed Mother, ask Mary to mother you. May Mary help us to repent and obey Jesus, have our questions answered, and exercise His authority in our lives.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Your action expresses your priorities

An Observation: “People compose the schedules they do out of the priorities they have; and someone who says otherwise is deceiving himself about what he really values. The same thing applies to money that applies to time. I make a practice of watching what people do, never what they say. Whatever is important, to anyone sane, he will make a place for it; people live out their values.”

Gospel text (Mk 11:11-25): After He had been acclaimed by the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple . And after He had looked all around, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day, when they were leaving Bethany , He felt hungry. In the distance He noticed a fig tree covered with leaves, so He went to see if He could find anything on it. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. Then Jesus said to the fig tree, «May no one ever eat your fruit!». And his disciples heard these words.

When they reached Jerusalem , Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive away all the people He saw buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the stools of those who sold pigeons. And he would not let anyone carry anything through the Temple area. Jesus then taught the people, «Does not God say in the Scriptures: ‘My house will be called a House of Prayer for all the nations’? But you have turned it into a den of thieves».The chief priests and the teachers of the Law heard of this, and they tried to find a way to destroy him. They were afraid of him because all the people were captivated in his teaching. When evening came, Jesus left the city.

Early next morning, as they walked along the road, the disciples saw the fig tree withered to its roots. Peter then said to him, «Master, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered». And Jesus replied, «Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, if you say to this mountain: ‘Get up and throw yourself into the sea’, and have no doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it shall be done for you. And when you stand to pray, forgive whatever you may hold against anyone, so that your heavenly Father may also forgive your sins».

In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks into the Temple to find it buzzing with the business of greedy gamblers and vendors. He is frustrated beyond belief and starts to turn over the merchants’ tables and rush everyone out. What could have possibly sparked such an intense reaction out of our gentle Lord?

Let's picture this: think about the first person in your life who is the nearest and dearest to your heart. Maybe it’s a parent, a spouse, or a best friend, but when you have the opportunity to spend time with him/her, you cherish every moment of it. This treasured person brings your heart such comfort and joy that you always make time for a visit together. So let’s say one day you walk into this person’s house, and it’s full of selfish and greedy strangers up to no good. They’re being loud and disrespectful, walking in and out as they please, not even caring that they’re destroying this special space that you and your loved one share. How does your heart feel at that moment?

So much of Jesus’ ministry stressed the importance of turning to God for everything, over and over. God can be and is our closest friend and provider—why not go to him for all our needs? Jesus certainly does so daily, taking time to pray and speak with his Father. Imagine the frustration and hurt Jesus felt as he entered the Temple that day, walking into his Father’s house to see it full of material indulgences that too easily veer us away from simply being in the presence of God.

Do we let the distractions of our lives swallow up the sacred time we could be spending with God? Our prayer time can be so easily replaced by the attention we pour into our phones, emails, gossip, tv shows, Facebook, shopping… Is it worth it to miss out on the message God so patiently waits to place on our hearts in prayer? As a child of God, Jesus recognized the importance and true beauty of communication with his heavenly Father. We too are called to this intimate relationship with God! When Jesus was denied this sacred prayer space in the Temple that day, his anger boiled over. Would ours? Does our time in prayer with God mean enough to us that we would feel the lack of it so deeply?