Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When prodigals return great things are done

Men do not differ much about what things they call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. -- G. K. Chesterton

Jonah 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.

How do we express our repentance? This is a critical question.

Picture the president of the United States dressed not in a fine suit but covered with sackcloth, and sitting not at a conference table but in a pile of ashes (Jon 3:6). Imagine the members of the Congress and Senate dressed also in sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Picture the whole country — both man and beast — covered with sackcloth and sitting in ashes (Jon 3:8). Imagine no one eating or drinking anything, and the animals complaining accordingly (Jon 3:7-8). What a scene! What noise! What repentance! What grace and mercy!

Even if we've never seen mass repentance and can think of a thousand obstacles to God's grace, the Lord can surprise us, especially in the worst of circumstances. Expect the Lord to do the impossible this Lent. Expect the world to be surprisingly transformed this Lent.

His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The word “Father” is another name for love

“Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.”--Saint Teresa of Avila

Gospel text (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."

Lent is a time of trust-testing and trust-building, a time for imitating Jesus led by the Spirit into the desert and tested by the devil (Mt 4:1).

In the Lord's prayer, Jesus teaches us to call God "Abba," Dad, Father (Mt 6:9), our first baby word of trust. We are commanded to pray only for today's bread (Mt 6:11). We don't need to worry about tomorrow (Mt 6:34); we can trust our Father. We can even have peace that the Lord will protect us and not subject us "to the trial," the temptation at the end of the world (Mt 6:13).

We must overcome the devil's temptations to doubt our Father. Through prayer time and Lenten time, we can come to have a deep trust in Abba — a trust that will transform our lives and give us confidence even in the face of death.

In this first week of Lent, have you already begun to be confirmed in your Father's love for you? Is the prayer of your heart, "Our Father Who art in heaven"? (see Mt 6:9) Are your secret almsgiving, praying, and fasting resulting in God the Father making no secret of His love for you as His child? Lent is about knowing our Father's love.

Let Abba (i.e. “Our Father”) love you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

He who does nothing for others does nothing for himself

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Brazil (Know as the Bishop of the slums)

Matthew 25:31-46:
Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of 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."

What is it that enables us to have eternal life? What is the thing that will enable us to live forever in the Kingdom of God? For Jesus, it is pretty simple. Treat every single person you meet at if they were Jesus Christ. Whatever you do for God’ s people, you do for God.

This is something easy to say. In fact, most of us can say this verse from memory without really even thinking about it. Yet, it is difficult to see Christ in every single person. Where is Christ in a man who murders his two little boys in a fire? Where is Christ in an employer who consciously underpays employees in order to make more money for him or herself? Where is God in the person who cuts you off in traffic or who bullies you? Where is God in the person who treats you as an object rather than with the dignity you deserve?

As hard as it is to believe, God is in every single one of these people. Genesis tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus takes this one step further and tells us that not only are we created in the image of God, but we must treat each other as the image we are. God loves each one of us deeply, personally, and passionately. So too, are we to treat the world around us.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it

But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. --C.S. Lewis

Psalm 25:
R. (cf. 10) Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
Good and upright is the LORD,
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and he teaches the humble his way.
R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

We often have "many trials" throughout our lives. However, there's something unique about Lenten trials. There may be more trials in Lent than at other times, or the combination of trials may be more challenging. Possibly the timing of our Lenten trials may seem exceptionally bad or even mysterious.

If we pray more than ever through these trials and if we fast as Jesus did in the desert, trials will bring out the best in us. If we repent and do penance, trials will not warp, twist, poison, confuse, or weaken us. Rather, God will use these trials to greatly strengthen our trust in His providential, faithful, and perfect love for us. However, if we endure trials without praying, fasting, and repenting, we can become lifelong slaves because of the fear of death (Heb 2:15), or bitter, unforgiving, resentful shadows of our former selves. If we mix sin and trials, we will become slaves of compulsions, self-deception, and self-hatred.

We must walk through the desert of Lent before coming to the life-giving waters of Easter (Mk 1:12). As we fast and pray, our hardened hearts begin to change. We repent of sin and remove from our lives those things incompatible with our baptismal commitment to Jesus.

We become “new“, fresh, and fully alive!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The strongest proof of repentance is the endeavor to atone

'God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.' - Saint Augustine

Gospel text (Lk 5,27-32):
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
Jesus said to them in reply,
"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."

How dramatically can the Lord transform a person during Lent? Levi may be the answer to this question.

Jesus dined with sinners. He healed on the Sabbath. He touched lepers and spoke to a Samaritan woman. He did not condemn even an adulterous woman, but he labeled the Pharisees "blind guides" and "whitened sepulchers" (see Mt 23:24-27). What it all boils down to is that Jesus refused to be "politically correct."

Are there ways in which you have bought into the anti-gospel values of the current political ideologies?

We need Levi's example because sin blinds us to sin or at least partially blinds us to the severity of our sins (see 1 Jn 2:11; 2 Cor 4:4). We don't think we need to change that much because we're blind to how far away we are from God's will. Moreover, we're surrounded by people who feel the same way.

Will you surrender all to Jesus? Will you accept Him as Lord of your life, job, money, and possessions? Will you follow Him and be the good news of Jesus for a world of bad news?

Repent by God's standards, not by the standards of world.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Self-preservation is the first law of nature, but self-sacrifice is the highest rule of grace

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

(Isaiah 58:1-9)
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!

Why do we fast for Lent?

Do we fast because Jesus has told us that, along with prayer, it is the most effective weapon against the kingdom of darkness? (Gospel of Life, 100)

In the reading, God chastises his people for making such a display of their fasting while at the same time mistreating their employees and fighting amongst themselves. He wants them to make their fast a time to forgive others, feed the hungry, and care for those who are hurting.

This is a time for us to renew our commitment to finding God in others by providing food for the homeless, speaking out against capital punishment, donating our time and love to a child in need. It is also closer to home that God calls us to find him, in those we live and work with such as the boss who we think is unjust, the family member who seems to annoy us on purpose, the lonely neighbor, etc.

Every year, the Holy Father John Paul II wrote us a message for Lent. One of these messages, under the motto «There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving» (Acts 20:35); helped us to discover the very same charitable dimension of our fasting, which, from the bottom of our heart, allows us to prepare for Easter Time, in an effort to identify ourselves, more and more, with Christ's love which took him to die on the Cross for us. In short, «what every Christian ought to do all the time, he ought to do it now more carefully and more devotedly» (Saint Leo the Great, pope).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

“He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”

Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them bravely, remembering Whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another, and let charity guide you all your life. God will reward you as only He can. - St Mary MacKillop

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
Moses said to the people:
"Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you,
a long life for you to live on the land that the LORD swore
he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Choose life – that sounds easy enough to do – common sense - why would Moses even say this to the Israelites? In the Gospel, Jesus tells his followers that to follow him they must take up their crosses daily, and be willing to lose their lives for him, if they want to save their lives (Luke 9:22-25). The only way to understand these contradictory and confusing statements is through the eyes and heart of faith.

We choose life and save our lives by obeying the Lord's commandments (Dt 30:16). To do our “own thing” is to choose death, contrary to popular opinion. We choose life by obeying the Lord to the point that we are repeatedly denying ourselves. We deny ourselves so much that we no longer have lives of our own (Gal 2:20). We have lost our lives for Jesus' sake. We take up our cross each day (Lk 9:23) so that we are finally crucified with Christ (Gal 2:19). Choosing the daily crosses leading to crucifixion is the only way to choose life.

Society today stands dramatically against many of the teachings of the Church, especially in areas of sexual morality. Contraception and abortion are but two of a number of important issues that the Church has always taught are gravely immoral, but that society today tells us are “rights” entitled to all people. Standing up for our beliefs as Catholics, especially against these things is perhaps our greatest challenge of this day and age. It is certainly not easy at times, but as we are reminded in the first reading today, we stand between “life and prosperity, [and] death and doom” (Dt. 30:15).

This is why I love today’s Gospel. Christ puts before us a bold challenge: Do you really love me? Do you truly trust me? Then take up your own crosses each day and follow me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The more I say 'No' to myself, the more I say 'Yes' to the Holy Spirit

“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” - Saint Peter Chrysologus

(Psalm 51)
R. (see 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
"Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight."
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Today is the first day of Lent - Ash Wednesday: «Now is the day of salvation!» (2Cor 6:2). The application of ashes reminds us of two ideals; the ancient one: «Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return»; and the one which the Council's renewed liturgy has introduced: «Repent, and believe in the Gospel». Both thoughts are an invitation to look at our own life in a different way. Pope Saint Clement I reminds us that «our Lord wants all whom He loves to become converts».

After a forest fire, the forest floor is covered with ashes. The ashes are the residue of death and destruction. However, the ashes also are the beginning of new life for the forest. The fire clears away the accumulated litter on the forest floor which had been smothering seedlings which tried to grow every year. Now that the fire has burned away this litter, the ashes serve as a sort of mulch which protects and actually nourishes the new seedlings. Thus, the ashes enable the cycle of new life to begin.

We are like that. The Lenten ashes of our repentance and dying to self smother our selfish pleasures, enabling and nourishing new life to blossom within us.

What new life does the Lord want to spring up as a result of your dying to self this Lent?

Will it be a call to a new vocation, the conception of a new child, a new holiness, the courage to witness publicly for Jesus, or returning home to the Catholic Church? Repent! Die to yourself (Lk 9:23). Let Jesus create His new, abundant life (Jn 10:10) in you

Will the ashen cross remain on your heart after it has been wiped off your forehead? Do you have the heart to receive ashes today?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How do we know if we have a servant’s heart? By how we act when we are treated like one

The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.--Saint Vincent de Paul

Gospel text (Mk 9,30-37):
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise."
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
"If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me."

Rankings! Ratings! Polls! Surveys! Standings! Our culture thrives on these measures. We constantly argue about who is most important (Mk 9:34). We have political approval polls, opinion polls, talk shows, sports standings, Most Valuable Players, Nielsen ratings of TV shows, Fortune 500 companies, and even TV shows which rank who is worthy to "survive" another week at the expense of eliminating someone else. However, our modern culture is not the first to be obsessed about ranking. The apostles on several occasions fell into this trap of rivalry. It's part of our fallen human nature (Jas 4:5). If we continue to live by the world's competitive standards, we will destroy ourselves or at least "vote each other off the island"! (see Gal 5:15)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has to have a discussion with his disciples about humility. When Jesus confronted them about their argument, they were ashamed. Sitting down, Jesus tells them this: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Oh, how often we think we are better than everyone else, even though we are not! The ego is much easier to inflate than a balloon, but pops just as quickly when pricked with shame. The easiest way to avoid this is simply to follow this message: Be the servant of all. We must not be preoccupied with who is the best. Rather, we should think about ways to serve, and about how Christ is working within.

The modern, competitive world makes this rather difficult to do, and this is indeed frustrating. However, what might be even more frustrating is the competition that takes place within ourselves: the competition between desires. I want this, I want that. I want to do great things, and yet strangely, sometimes I want to do things that are terrible and not great in any way.

Where does the desire for God fall in with this internal war?

If only my desire for God won out in every single instance; then I would stop wasting time wondering where I stand in competition with others and spend much more time thinking about love, both divine and human, and how to submit to Christ’s workings within me.

Love and Christ ought to always win when in competition with hubris, and the only way for that to happen in every instance is to be “the servant of all.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Prayer carries us half way to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, and alms-giving procures us admission."

It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life.--Saint John Chrysostom

Gospel text (Mk 9,14-29):
As Jesus came down from the mountain with Peter, James, John
and approached the other disciples,
they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.
Immediately on seeing him,
the whole crowd was utterly amazed.
They ran up to him and greeted him.
He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?"
Someone from the crowd answered him,
"Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit.
Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down;
he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.
I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so."
He said to them in reply,
"O faithless generation, how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you? Bring him to me."
They brought the boy to him.
And when he saw him,
the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions.
As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around
and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father,
"How long has this been happening to him?"
He replied, "Since childhood.
It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus said to him,
"'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!"
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering,
rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it,
"Mute and deaf spirit, I command you:
come out of him and never enter him again!"
Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out.
He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, "He is dead!"
But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private,
"Why could we not drive the spirit out?"
He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

If you can? We picture Jesus, hearing the emptiness in our prayers, shaking his head. "O faithless generation," he sighs.

Today Jesus invites us to examine our demons with our whole hearts. What kind of demons do we want to drive out of our lives? What addictions cripple us, throwing us to the ground each day? We sometimes feel the most powerless over the patterns that have been in our life for a long time, perhaps all our lives. Why could we not drive that spirit out? Why do we feel like saying "Well, I've tried and I just can't do it!"?

Jesus reminds us that the most troubling, difficult, evil problems we face take serious prayer, and maybe even fasting. To break the bond, the hold that some things just have on us, it takes strong medicine. Complete trust in God is a desire we need to ask for, and we have to prepare a place for it in our hearts. We prepare our lives and our hearts for Lent by praying for our deepest desires and with a new awareness of the fasting we will do in Lent.

It is in this moment that Jesus will take us by the hand and raise us from the hard, cold ground onto which we have fallen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you

He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart. --St. Faustina

(Isaiah 43)
Thus says the LORD:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
The people I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.
Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob,
for you grew weary of me, O Israel.
You burdened me with your sins,
and wearied me with your crimes.
It is I, I, who wipe out,
for my own sake, your offenses;
your sins I remember no more.

When you hear the word “repentance”, what comes to mind? I immediately picture someone being sincerely sorry for committing a hurtful act and promising not to do it again.

I have found that too often Christians dwell on the past mistakes or sinful acts they have made. As a result, they feel discouraged or unworthy to live as Christ’s disciple. Today’s reading from Isaiah insightfully advises against this self-criticism when it says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” (Isaiah 43:18-19) It is important to realize that in every moment of every day, God lovingly gives us the opportunity to serve and grow in faith. In essence, we continually are able to grow closer to God. However, if we place all our attention on our failings, we are unable to see these opportunities to grow. Yes, we must recognize when we have done wrong, but we are called to use these moments to see how we can better become God’s disciples instead of falling in self-loathing.

However, I find myself compelled to ask, “How can I move on and grow from my failings?” I think the Gospel helps provide the answer by emphasizing that Christ has the power and love to forgive our sins. Christ does not want to punish or condemn us. Instead, he wants to bring us closer to him and share in his life. Therefore, he has given us the amazing grace of forgiveness. What a profound gift Christ’s forgiveness is? Christ knows that we will fall time after time, but he will pick us up just the same and compel us to live lives directed more towards him. Therefore, let us reflect today in thanksgiving for the gift of Christ’s forgiveness and look for ways to better see God in our lives.

The Church has taught throughout the centuries: "When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon" (Catechism, 1456). When we go to Confession, the Lord forgives all our sins even if we have accidentally forgotten to confess any of them or have not expressed them well. We are completely forgiven and truly free. We have reason to be full of joy. Let us "celebrate and rejoice" (Lk 15:32) because we who have been dead in sin have come back to life. Alleluia!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The first duty of love is to listen

You wish to see; listen. Hearing is a step toward Vision. - Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Gospel text (Mk 9,2-13):
Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
"Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
then from the cloud came a voice,
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
Then they asked him,
"Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"
He told them, "Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things,
yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man
that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?
But I tell you that Elijah has come
and they did to him whatever they pleased,
as it is written of him."

I have often wondered how Jesus chose Peter, James and John to be witness to the special events of his life here on earth. In addition to witnessing the transfiguration they were also with Jesus during his agony in the garden. Presumably Jesus saw something in these three apostles that somehow set them apart from the other nine. They were privileged to be present at these special events. On this occasion they were able to hear the words of God the Father, and to glimpse something of the divinity of Jesus. Truly this was a very special privilege for Peter, James and John.

The transfiguration is a very mysterious event. It was reserved for these three alone to witness, and they had to keep it a secret until after the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Had they spoken immediately after they came down from the mountain, others might have been unable to understand what the apostles had seen and heard. Only later, when Jesus had completed his instructions and teaching to the apostles, would they have been able to understand what their brethren had witnessed, a very important and mysterious event.

I think the message of this gospel reading for us today is to take the words of God the Father from the Transfiguration as addressed to ourselves. Just as he called the apostles long ago, God is calling us today to listen to the words of Jesus. He is asking us not merely to hear the words of Jesus, but to really and truly listen to them. God wants us to listen very carefully to the words of Jesus that we hear in sacred scripture and in the teachings of the Church. He is calling us to imitate the apostles in our devotion to the following of Jesus.

Friday, February 17, 2012

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one!”

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” ~ G.K. Chesterton.

Gospel text (Mk 8,34-9,1):
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
What could one give in exchange for his life?
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words
in this faithless and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of
when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

He also said to them,
"Amen, I say to you,
there are some standing here who will not taste death
until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power."

Today’s gospel challenges us to walk the talk. It is not enough to say we are faithful, indeed, to even be faithful, without actions to accompany that faith. Many Catholics and other Christians thought they could work their way into heaven. They were dead wrong. We are not saved by our works, but by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). In addition, many people, including Catholics, thought they needed only to profess faith without practicing it (Jas 2:14). “I believe in Jesus, therefore I am saved“! They also were dead wrong, for faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17-26). "You must perceive that a person is justified by his works and not by faith alone" (Jas 2:24).

We are saved by grace alone — not faith alone or works alone. How are you responding to God's grace? Are you believing but not doing much with your faith? Or are you working a lot but believing very little? Are your faith and works integrated or separated?

Faith and works can't live without each other. They both live together or they both die. Therefore, strengthen your faith by working out your salvation (Phil 2:12). Enliven your works by obedient faith (Rm 1:5; 16:26). Jesus said: "This is the work of God: have faith in the One Whom He sent" (Jn 6:29).

Believe and work!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The poor sick person is Christ again made visible

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. - Saint Augustine

(James 2:1-9)
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person with shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, "Sit here, please,"
while you say to the poor one, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet,"
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
But you dishonored the poor.
Are not the rich oppressing you?
And do they themselves not haul you off to court?
Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?
However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.
But if you show partiality, you commit sin,
and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

I feel personally challenged by this reading. It deserves serious reflection by all of us. James is obviously writing about a human behavior which he has observed in this community. Showing "partiality" is something we've all been guilty of at some time, perhaps all the time. A wealthy person in our assembly gets more favorable attention than a poor person does.

Do we want to be "rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom" of God? Then we should decide to be "poor in the eyes of the world." Most everyone says they want to be rich in faith, but hope for a way to do it other than choosing to be poor. This reluctance shows that most people are giving "lip-service" when they speak of their desire for a strong faith.

"Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God" (Rm 10:17). If we want to be rich in faith, we should devote time each day to reading, praying, and studying God's Word. Nonetheless, few people persevere in daily Bible reading, although all say they want a stronger faith. Faith in anyone, including the Lord, depends on building a strong relationship through frequent, personal conversation. In other words, faith implies daily, committed prayer.

Faith flourishes especially in the context of daily Communion. Yet how few people center their lives on prayer and Communion! "All depends on faith" (Rm 4:16), and faith depends on God's grace. The Lord has chosen to pour out the grace of faith in the contexts of Gospel poverty, Bible reading, and daily prayer. How to be "rich in faith" is no mystery. "But when the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on the earth?" (Lk 18:8)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vision is the art of seeing the invisible

“No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities – always see them, for they're always there.”

Gospel text (Mk 8,22-26):
When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida,
people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked,
"Do you see anything?"
Looking up the man replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking."
Then he laid hands on the man's eyes a second time and he saw clearly;
his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Then he sent him home and said, "Do not even go into the village."

I doubt that what I have to say would fit with a deeper interpretation of Mark's gospel, but there is still something here worth considering.

Jesus leads the blind man aside, so different from what He usually does, and then He works His miracle in two stages, almost as if He were not quite sure what He is doing. This is also very different from what usually happens.

We might apply this to ourselves. If we really wish Jesus to heal us or to change us in any way, we need to go aside with Him, to spend time alone with Him in prayer or at least in reading or spiritual conversation. We need to retreat from worldly concerns and place ourselves entirely in His hands.

And Jesus does not work His healing in us all at once. Like a teacher, He takes us some distance on one day, and then, when we have grown from that, He takes us a further step or two on the next day. We will spend our entire lives growing and maturing in different ways as He loves us, heals us, teaches us, and draws us closer to Himself in all things.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

May the Heart of Jesus Christ be our school!

"If we but paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament [the Eucharist], I am sure that the thought of Christ's love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude." - St. Angela of Foligno

Gospel text (Mk 8,14-21):
The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, "Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod."
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
"Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?"
They answered him, "Twelve."
"When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?"
They answered him, "Seven."
He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"

“. . . are your hearts hardened?”

This question of Jesus to His disciples is ironically apt for Valentine’s Day. So, more surprising still, is the realization that the very notion of heart is itself biblical, quite independent of how it may be translated. The word “heart” occurs 550 times in the Old Testament, 128 of these in the Psalms alone. And it doesn’t stop with the Old Testament. Jesus used “heart”, as in today’s reading, over 50 times in the New Testament.

Think of just a few of the phrases using heart: we’re soft-hearted when we’re kind and compassionate, hard-hearted when we’re mean and uncaring. We’re faint-hearted or stout of heart; we get to the heart of the matter. When we’re disappointed, our hearts are broken; and when we’re happy, our hearts are bursting for joy. Where our treasure lies there will our hearts be also. God told Ezekiel that he would replace the stony hearts of his people with hearts of flesh. And Luke tells us that Simeon told Mary, at the presentation of the infant Jesus, that through her the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. And after her two visits to Jerusalem with her Son, we read that Mary kept these things in her heart. How natural that seems!

Our Lord never misses an opportunity to teach and today being Valentine’s Day is no exception. So when considering a gift for the ones you love most, along with the standard box of chocolate hearts, “given in” to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. This is the best imaginable valentine gift of all, for it endlessly pours itself out in self-giving.

Hard as that may seem, our baptisms make it possible. Never forget, Jesus has given us a heart transplant – His own!

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wisdom is what's left after we've run out of personal opinions

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” - Saint Augustine

James (1:1-11)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect,
so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom,
he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,
and he will be given it.
But he should ask in faith, not doubting,
for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea
that is driven and tossed about by the wind.
For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,
since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

The brother in lowly circumstances
should take pride in high standing,
and the rich one in his lowliness,
for he will pass away "like the flower of the field."
For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass,
its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes.
So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Often in our lives we can feel as though God is burdening us with too much. We may feel overwhelmed or hampered by the load he has put on our back; a load we don't feel we deserve. We may even feel as though God is punishing us for something and his love for us as dwindled. This is not true.

The Letter to James can seem quite disjointed. Beginning with an exhortation regarding perseverance in faith, the text then gives instruction about praying for wisdom. The necessary connection emerges, however, when we recall that this “wisdom” is no ordinary wisdom, but wisdom “from above.”

As in the rest of the Scriptures, such wisdom relates to faith—it helps the believer “see” clearly the meaning of the events in his or her life, precisely because it sheds light on these events from the perspective of faith. We think of Paul’s writing in his first letter to the Corinthians in which he refers to “God’s wisdom, mysterious and hidden,” the wisdom of the Cross. What the ordinary eye sees as the death of one more unfortunate victim of Roman cruelty, the eyes of faith see as the plan of God for the salvation of the world.

Only the gift of that kind of wisdom allows the believer to persevere in the midst of trials which test faith.

Where have we recently experienced a trial or testing of faith?

Perhaps someone has experienced rejection from a friend, associate or family member because of a moral stance taken. Perhaps someone else struggles to find the nearness of God that seemed so reassuring just a short time ago. Our great temptation is to “figure out” these and similar situations. By contrast, James urges us: Pray for the gift of wisdom, for the light that comes from God, to see more clearly God’s presence and find the grace of perseverance in trial.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


One month ago I sent out a request soliciting funds to adopt families in Calcutta, India. To be frank with you, the response from the Oh….Francesco readers was overwhelming. For that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. God will surely bless you for your generosity!

Yesterday in consulting with the priest in India, Father Medi feels that if we help select families, due to the limited resources, we would have to exclude others. By doing this discord and jealousy would be created among the people he serves. So instead we have another idea. We are going to build a new church and community hall for everyone in the village. This sounds like an “impossible” task especially since I am not a “money guy”, never was. With that being said, I believe in God and in God all things are possible and because of that, this task will be accomplished. Our Blessed Mother will guide this work of love from start to finish. Believe it!!!

These days people always say they are looking for a charity that they know where the money they donate goes. Where there are no overhead costs, no big executive salaries, and no corporate non-sense to deal with. Well, here it is!

If you decide to participate in this work of love and send donations, you will be in direct contact with India yourself. I am enclosing Father Medi’s contact information. Please email him and ask any questions you may have. As for sending funds, they will go from your hand directly to his. Remember, US dollars go a long way in India. Currently, the conversion rate is around 50 to 1.

Pastor: Father Medard Tirkey
Catholic Church Prem Nagar
11/13 Puratan Sahir Lane
P.O: Santragachi, Howrah-711 104

My life’s experience has been very unique in that God has called me to walk among some of the world’s poorest people in many different places, both in the United States and around the world. I have seen extreme poverty first hand in India, Haiti, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Africa not to mention the Bronx and Newark, New Jersey. This exposure to Our Lord’s most neediest people has taught me many things. Most especially it has revealed to me a great responsibility that all people of faith and good will have, whether they realize it or not.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

God did not give us a “good life” here in the United States in order for us to horde it from others. He gave to some more, so those with means, can then help those without. This is a fundamental truth, which spans across all religions and beliefs!!

This my dear friends is how we all will be judged by God when we stand before him.

When I was hungry…Did you give me to eat?

When I was thirsty…Did you give me to drink?

When I was naked…Did you cloth me?

Scripture in the 25th chapter of Mathew (MT 25: 31-46) puts is very clearly how Our Lord will separate the “sheep from the goats.”

So I implore your generosity. Be apart of something bigger then yourself. If you can not donate money, just say a small prayer for this work of love in your own words.

Lastly, to conclude this appeal, remember the words of Mother Teresa when she was asked how she started her first center in Calcutta that served the dying who lay in the street. She went on to tell this reporter who asked her, “If I did not pick up the first man from the gutter myself, thousands upon thousands would not have been picked up afterwards by others.”

It all starts with a choice and a step……make the choice and take the step!

God Bless You!!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Compassion is not religious business, it is human business

“By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also”.

Gospel text (Mk 7,31-37):
Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man's ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
"Ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!")
And immediately the man's ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
"He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

Is it possible to have faith if we are not actively living it?

A lot of commentary is devoted to why Jesus came. His basic message was to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. He came to spread a gospel of love, not of hate. This message holds greater meaning for me when I consider what it was like to live in His place and time

Jesus dressed like a Jew, ate like a Jew, loved to eat and drink, and deeply lived out his Judaism. That he engaged in questions of how to follow the commandments showed he cared deeply about them. He said there will be a time when we will no longer ask ‘Who is my neighbor?’, but ‘Who acts as neighbor?’

Are we waiting to be served rather than serve?

Rabbi Hillel, one of Judaism’s greatest teachers once said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. All the rest is commentary; go and learn”. Jesus takes this a little further. Levine sees Jesus as the hero of the masses, come to promote a more just society. His followers practiced daily prayer, shared goods in common, cared for widows and believed in trusting in God’s will. Of faith, hope and charity, they believed the greatest of these is charity.

St Josemaria Escriva offers us the secret to succeed in this practice of charity: «Do what you should and watch what you do». Is this how we behave?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gospel text (Mk 7,24-30):
Jesus went to the district of Tyre.
He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it,
but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him.
She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth,
and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, "Let the children be fed first.
For it is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs."
She replied and said to him,
"Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps."
Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go.
The demon has gone out of your daughter."
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed
and the demon gone.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the woman who seeks healing for her daughter, who had been entered by a demon, though she is not a Jew. Christ’s first response: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied with a feisty, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” That mother was a pagan, but her pain and love for her child brought her to insistently beg, ignoring scorn, delays or indignities. And she gets what she is asking for, she «went home, and she found her child lying in bed and the demon gone» (Mk 7:30).

We can learn much from watching Jesus in action here. For one, He tests the woman by making her persevere in her request. Second, He does not discriminate. This woman was not a Jew and in Jesus’ time the Jewish people were not to associate with the non-Jewish population of Israel, never mind help them. But as we see in our story, Jesus ignores these cultural stigmas and helps the woman anyway.

Now how does this gospel reading apply to us today in 2012?

When we are faced with the “illegal” immigrant, the homeless person , or the politician from the Dark Side (whatever that side may be), how are we to respond as apostles of Christ? We are people who go by the name, Christian, who claim to want to spread the Good News, and who yearn for greater integrity in our lives?

Is this a risky endeavor? Perhaps. It may require that we have to give up long-held opinions or comfortable judgments.

Can we chance it? To paraphrase what Jesus Himself said in another part of the Gospel, “Come in; the water’s fine.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints

Clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches. - Thomas Aquinas

Gospel text (Mk 7,14-23):
Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them,
"Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile."

When he got home away from the crowd
his disciples questioned him about the parable.
He said to them,
"Are even you likewise without understanding?
Do you not realize that everything
that goes into a person from outside cannot defile,
since it enters not the heart but the stomach
and passes out into the latrine?"
(Thus he declared all foods clean.)
"But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him.
From within the man, from his heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile."

How often these days we hear people asserting that they are spiritual but not religious? This usually means the speaker has no formal institutional religious affiliation but is trying to live a good life by following personal conscience. The assertion also implies an indictment: the person has abandoned church-going because they allege their church was more concerned with externals of belonging to the institution than with conscientious moral living day to day.

Unfortunately this assertion is also common among Christians. These people imply that Christian religious affiliation itself is inherently superficial because it is preoccupied with fulfilling external religious obligations that relate to church belonging rather than with fostering the interior life of the person.This accusation related to Christianity is invalid.

Jesus’ message throughout the Gospel is primarily heart-centered, love-centered! Over and over again Jesus calls disciples to a quality of life that flows from love; on occasion he is even willing to break the law if it interferes with loving others. Witness this in his healings on the Sabbath. Witness this also also in his teaching that the whole law and the prophets are summed up in the two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor. Yes, witness this also in his condemnation of Pharisees whom he called “hypocrites.”

The dichotomy between being spiritual and being religious makes no sense for a Christian. We disciples of Jesus are both spiritual and religious. We are privileged to belong to a religious institution because it helps us be faithful to Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor with our entire heart, mind, soul and body — in short, to become the persons that God created us to be!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Listen and attend with the ear of your heart

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gospel text (Mk 7,1-13):
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.
(For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.
And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)
So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
"Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?"
He responded,
"Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,
as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."
He went on to say,
"How well you have set aside the commandment of God
in order to uphold your tradition!
For Moses said,
Honor your father and your mother,
and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.
Yet you say,
'If someone says to father or mother,
"Any support you might have had from me is qorban"'
(meaning, dedicated to God),
you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.
You nullify the word of God
in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.
And you do many such things."

Have you ever been in love with someone who couldn't care less about you? You try to be nice to them, and if they do notice you, it's only for the purpose of getting something from you. Jesus unconditionally loves all of humanity, and this is how He is too often treated in return. So many turn to Jesus to meet a need, but their hearts are far from Him (Mk 7:6).
The Lord truly desires to provide our needs (see Phil 4:19; Mt 6:30; 7:9-11). Yet, He desires to provide for us in the context of a mutually loving relationship, rather than being treated as little more than an ATM machine.

It's all in the heart.

Is your heart set upon meeting your needs or on meeting the Lord of your needs? Ask Jesus to "give you a new heart" (Ez 36:26), and let your heart dwell in the center of His heart.

Monday, February 6, 2012

People see God every day, they just don't recognize him

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. ~St. Augustine
Gospel text (Mc 6,53-56):
After making the crossing to the other side of the sea,
Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret
and tied up there.
As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him.
They scurried about the surrounding country
and began to bring in the sick on mats
to wherever they heard he was.
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.

When I first read today’s Gospel, this was the verse that grabbed my attention because of one word: “immediately.” People immediately recognized Jesus. There was no hesitation. But why? Jesus didn’t look any different. He was called a great teacher, and maybe even a wise prophet, but why did they immediately recognize him? I think it is because they were looking with the eyes of faith. The people heard stories of this man named Jesus, who cured lepers and gave sight to the blind. They believed he could cure their sick and because of their faith, many were cured.

So many times I miss seeing God because I focus on worldly things, or I have to search in order to find him in a certain situation. We probably all have those times when we feel as if God is hiding from us, but if we only open the eyes of our heart, we would see him at work in every aspect of our lives. God gives us the opportunity to see him in our lives multiple times each day. Some people call them coincidences, but I firmly believe that those times are the hand of God guiding us along the right path. It comes when a stranger smiles at us as we are walking along the street, or when someone holds the door open as we walk through.

There is a story of a man who was supposed to fly home to southern California from a business trip in Boston, but his alarm clock did not wake him up and, as a result, he missed the bus to the airport. He missed his ride on United Airlines flight 175 and was frustrated with himself for not getting up on time. Shortly thereafter, he watched in horror as United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, for it was the morning of September 11, 2001.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the man’s alarm clock failed to awaken him, but I think that is how God works. God does not walk around, working incredible miracles that cause dozens to believe him. Instead, I think he works through the roundabout ways. He shows us his care when an anonymous person picks up our bill at the restaurant. He reveals his beauty and majesty when we pause for a moment and watch the sunrise early one morning. And whenever we behold an image of Christ hanging upon the cross, he whispers softly into our hearts. “I love you THIS much.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.--Saint Augustine of Hippo

As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.--St. Madeline Sophie Barat

([74] Job 7:1-4, 6-7)
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, "When shall I arise?"
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

Job, in our Reading today , has had a hard time of it. He is experiencing the crucible of fidelity. The Devil kind of makes a bet with God that if Job is squeezed enough he will cry out in some way of disbelief. The devil says that Job is a man of faith, because he has everything in hand and within his control. In Job’s reaction to his suffering, we hear a most natural response to the questions which suffering can create. Job asks the usual questions about the meaning of life. We hear two such questions and then his tormented musings about the meaning of his personal life and that of all humankind.

Job has been laid low by the hand of God. His family, his possessions and even his own physical well being have been removed. He is struggling to stay faithful. He is a most conventional or usual human being. These lines are his answers which are being wrenched from his mouth by the twistings of his body and soul. He has lost everything except some trust in the value of life, but very little at that. His “ouch” we all know in our own lives.

Most people can relate to Job, for they have endured tragedies, deaths in their families, sicknesses, pain, and sufferings. Even those who have so far had easier lives know that life can be, and almost inevitably will be, hard. We all have the question of Job: "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?" We feel as if we "have been assigned months of misery" (Jb 7:3). Our days and nights drag on ever so slowly (Jb 7:4), while at the same time life passes all too quickly (Jb 7:6-7).

God's plan is not to spare us from difficult times; His plan is to be with us in our difficulties. God sent His only Son Jesus, Who is called "Emmanuel, a name which means 'God is with us' " (Mt 1:23). The true test of a Christian comes in the crosses of our lives. Our actions in times of distress tell God whether we want Jesus with us or whether we just want to be spared adversity.

If we know Jesus is with us, we can face adversity with hope and even joy. Job looked up to heaven in his misery and saw the Lord for himself (Jb 42:5). Knowing God was with him made all the difference for Job.

Know Jesus; know hope. No Jesus; no hope. "Fix your eyes on Jesus" (Heb 3:1), the only Hope you need.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire

"I challenge you to make your life like a masterpiece. I challenge you to join the ranks of those people who live what they teach, who walk their talk."

Gospel text (Mk 6: 30-34):
The Apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
"Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Today’s Gospel passage reminds us of our dependence on Jesus and the Word of God. For those of us who have chosen to try to follow the teaching of Jesus do so because we have found in him the shepherd. Therefore, the body of Christ, the Church, must be constantly teaching. When the Church was born at the first Christian Pentecost, she immediately devoted herself to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42).

Teaching is essential to God's plan of salvation. Remember, he is our shepherd and we are his sheep, and as a good shepherd he does not abandon his flock.

Friday, February 3, 2012

There is no education like adversity

Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough.-- St. Teresa of Jesus

Sirach 47: (2 - 11)
As the fat is selected from the peace offering, so David was selected from the sons of Israel. He played with lions as with young goats, and with bears as with lambs of the flock. In his youth did he not kill a giant, and take away reproach from the people, when he lifted his hand with a stone in the sling and struck down the boasting of Goliath? For he appealed to the Lord, the Most High, and he gave him strength in his right hand to slay a man mighty in war, to exalt the power of his people. So they glorified him for his ten thousands, and praised him for the blessings of the Lord, when the glorious diadem was bestowed upon him. For he wiped out his enemies on every side, and annihilated his adversaries the Philistines; he crushed their power even to this day. In all that he did he gave thanks to the Holy One, the Most High, with ascriptions of glory; he sang praise with all his heart, and he loved his Maker. He placed singers before the altar, to make sweet melody with their voices. He gave beauty to the feasts, and arranged their times throughout the year, while they praised God's holy name, and the sanctuary resounded from early morning. The Lord took away his sins, and exalted his power for ever; he gave him the covenant of kings and a throne of glory in Israel.

As well as the story of David and Goliath is known, few of us truly take the time to understand what these verses mean. As David faces off against the giant Goliath, he calls upon God for aid. If nothing else, something that we can take from this passage is that God is always there to support us, and all we need to do is ask for his aid.

I once heard someone say that God is strongest when you cannot feel him there. While this may seem a little contradictory, allow me to shed some light upon the statement. As we pull away from God, he has to try to get us back, and the more distant we become, the harder he has to pull to be noticed by our hearts. When we are lost, God is searching, trying to find his way to us, and he has to try harder and harder to get us back and wrap us again in his love. In short, God is always available for help, providing light in the dark, and strength to get through the day. Since we are approaching the Valentine season, why not give God a valentine, for all the love he has shown the world?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Patience with others is Love, Patience with self is Hope, Patience with God is Faith

True patience grows with the growth of love. We put up with our neighbors to the extent that we love them. If you love, you are patient. If you cease loving, you will cease being patient. The less we love, the less patience we show. - St. Gregory the Great : Pope and Doctor of the Church

(Lk 2:22-32)
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

"Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel."

Today the Church celebrates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem. In that same spirit, we present ourselves today to the Lord, especially in the Mass.

I recently saw an advertisement for a bride's camp. This was a service for brides who had only a few months left before their wedding day. The "camp" involved a feverish workout, nutrition, and beauty regimen designed to put the bride in the best possible shape for her wedding day. The idea is to make her "presentable" in the best possible way.

Our presentation of ourselves to God involves much more than the above example. Jesus says: "No one who comes [to Me] will I ever reject" (Jn 6:37). Jesus became like you so that you would always know in the depths of your heart that you can "approach God through Him" (Heb 7:25; Eph 2:18). Present yourself to Jesus today, just as you are. Receive His life-giving love.

Re-read the words of the gospel narrative as it concludes:
Stretching his arms Simeon takes the Infant from his Mother and praises God while saying: «Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, for you have fulfilled your word and my eyes have seen your salvation, which you display for all the people to see. Here is the light you will reveal to the nations and the glory of your people Israel» (Lk 2:29-32).

You are invited to do the same.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle - Saint Philo of Alexandria

For there are three ways of performing an act of mercy: the merciful word, by forgiving and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray - that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict. (1158)--St Faustina, an excerpt from her diary

(Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7)
R. (see 5c) Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
R. Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, "I confess my faults to the LORD,"
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
R. Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you
in time of stress.
Though deep waters overflow,
they shall not reach him.
R. Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
R. Lord, forgive the wrong I have done

Today’s psalm brings us hope: “For this shall every faithful man pray to you in time of stress. Though deep waters overflow, they shall not reach him.” Tough times come and hope buoys us up when we trust our Heavenly Father, who is full of mercy. We can take comfort that if he welcomed back our prodigal brother, we can come back, too.

Thanks be to God!