Sunday, June 30, 2013

“You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.”

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

Gospel Text: (LK 9:51-62)
When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

And to another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Being a disciple is like plowing. Disciples have the power to break up hard ground and hard hearts in a hard, hardened, and hardening world. Without the disciples' plowing, there can never be a harvest, no matter how much seed is sown and no matter how much work is done.

Plowing is hard work with hard ground, and the first field we must plow is the field of our own hardened hearts.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

God gives us not only the truth but also the ability to believe it

“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” – St Augustine

Gospel Text: (MT 16:13-19)
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, who were key leaders in founding in the early Church. 

The Church is divinely established as apostolic. It is founded on the apostles, including Peter and Paul (Eph 2:20). The Church is episcopal. It is governed by the bishops, the successors of the apostles. The Church is papal. It is governed by the pope, the successor of St. Peter. Therefore, the Church is hierarchical and visible. The Church is also catholic, that is, universal, and therefore missionary.

It is critical to know what Jesus means by the Church, for Jesus calls us to love the Church and to lay down our lives for it, as He did (Eph 5:25). We must be sure we are giving our lives for His Church and not for what we think is His Church.

Is your church the Church of Peter and Paul? Is your church the Church of Christ?

Friday, June 28, 2013

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. -  Saint Teresa of Avila

Gospel Text: (MT 8:1-4)
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.
And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said,
“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
He stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,
“I will do it. Be made clean.”
His leprosy was cleansed immediately.
Then Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one,
but go show yourself to the priest,
and offer the gift that Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

According to ancient Hebrew belief, physical contact with lepers rendered a person unclean. Holy people in particular were expected to keep a safe distance from lepers. Against this background the gesture of Jesus who stretches out his hand and physically touches the leper becomes unthinkable. Has he no fear of being defiled? What is going on here? Jesus is challenging and redefining the traditional views of holiness and un-holiness. Jesus is challenging traditional superstitions and prejudices that certain people are impure by the conditions of their health, social status or birth. An Indian friend once said that in his part of the country people of a higher caste would not sit together in church with those of a lower caste, the so-called untouchables. By reaching out and touching the leper and thereby making him pure again, Jesus is teaching us, his followers, to reach out and embrace the dehumanized and the outcasts among us. A deed of solidarity with the dehumanized does not dehumanize the doer, rather it restores full humanity to the dehumanized.

Leprosy, thank God, has become a curable disease. Yet the tendency to see some diseases as divine punishment and to ostracize those who suffer from them is still with us. Is this not how many of us still see people with HIV-AIDS? Have you not heard tele-evangelists who teach that AIDS is divine punishment for sin? Jesus challenges us today to abandon such dehumanizing beliefs and reach out in solidarity with these modern-day lepers among us, just as he himself did in his own days.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

“Man can certainly keep on lying... but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel... but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God.”

Gospel Text: (MT 7:21-29)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’
Then I will declare to them solemnly,
‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

When Jesus finished these words,
the crowds were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority,
and not as their scribes.

Yesterday, the decision of five unelected Justices of the United States Supreme Court was read from the bench. They determined, on their own authority, that individual States can decide for themselves what constitutes a marriage and no other authority can interfere with such a decision.

So, in light of the implications of this decision, we should ask a question, "On what foundation are we building our own house?" In the circles of the new cultural revolutionaries, Christians (at least orthodox, faithful ones) are unenlightened, forcing "our view" on others. When, in fact, our positions on marriage, family, authentic freedom, the dignity of every human person, and the very existence of objective truth are what frees people - and cultures - from the bondage of disordered appetites and anarchy.

In 1969, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote "Faith and the Future". In it he spoke of what might be ahead for the Church. Little did he realize then that he would occupy the Chair of Peter. Now, he prays for all of us daily in a monastic enclosure in the Vatican. What a prophetic symbol. Here are a few excerpts for reflection today:

"The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, she will lose many of her social privileges. As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members."

"It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution - when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church."

"Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."

"And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."

"But in all of the changes at which one might guess the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world."

Let us build our lives on Rock and keep our doors open to the men and women of our age who will seek stability as the world is shaken around them. The struggle we face in a declining western culture involves a clash of worldviews, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of human freedom, human dignity, and human flourishing.

It is a contest over the foundations of a truly human and just social order. We insist that true marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. Truth does not change, people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for evil.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Great acts are made up of small deeds

"A good deed is never lost. He who sows courtesy, reaps friendship; he who plants kindness, gathers love; pleasure bestowed on a grateful mind was never sterile, but generally gratitude begets reward." – St Basil

Gospel Text: (MT 7:15-20)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”

What does this gospel mean?

Perhaps, that «every good tree bears good fruit» (Mt 7:17)? No, it means that the good one is good as long as he does not stop doing good. That he does good and he does not get tired of it. He does good and he does not give up before the temptation to do evil. He does good and perseveres. He does good, and if by any chance, he yields to the weariness of doing it, falls before the temptation of doing evil, or gets scared before the non-negotiable, he sincerely and truly admits it, heartily repents and... restarts all over again.

It is not enough to say: «Lord, Lord!». As St. James reminds us, faith is shown through our works!: «Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works» (Jm 2:18).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

“If you stopped tellin' people it's all sorted out after they're dead, they might try sorting it all out while they're alive.”

'If you wish to imitate the multitude, then you shall not be among the few who shall enter in by the narrow gate.' - St. Augustine, Doctor and Father of the Church

Gospel Text: (MT 7:6, 12-14)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few.”

Hell was not part of God's original plans, for everything he created was and is good. He formed us in his image and likeness in order to share his life and love, but as we all know God gives us free will to choose. Always remember, the Church proposes, it does not impose itself on others and nor should we. With that being said, Jesus made it possible for us, if we choose, to misuse our freedom against Him, others, and ourselves. Sin, suffering, death and hell are not of God but of those who refuse Him, the consequences of a disordered self-love so strong that it excludes the love of God.

Hell exists! It is the state, as the Catechism calls it, of "definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." It is the tragic possibility of human freedom for those who, in voluntarily choosing sin, separate themselves from God and others.

After some reflecting on today’s gospel reading, perhaps we should look at this narrow gate as the gate of surrender. Perhaps it is a matter of our allowing Jesus into our hearts and into our relationships so that he can teach us a new way of living and a new way of loving. And the truth is, it’s hard to humble ourselves to such a degree. It’s hard to give Jesus control of our lives, even if he promises to rule us in love and compassion, in tenderness and mercy.

Brothers and sisters, the Golden Rule works only to the degree that we let Jesus work in us. He can teach us to offer forgiveness and love instead of judgment and hatred. His love can soften our hearts so that he can reshape them to reflect his own compassion, peace, and eagerness to serve. The Golden Rule works only as we seek the grace to treat other people the way Jesus has treated us. And we can only do that if we let Jesus in and slowly allow him to change us. This my friends is the path that leads to the narrow gate.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Talking no longer impresses anyone, especially now with the explosion of information; everyone talks about everything. We must give WITNESS and only in this way will we be able to propagate the Gospel.

"Help each other to live and to grow in the Christian faith so as to be valiant witnesses of the Lord. Be united, but not closed. Be humble, but not fearful. Be simple, but not naive. Be thoughtful, but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with others, but be yourselves." - Pope Benedict XVI, Genoa, Italy, May 18, 2008

Gospel Text: (LK 1:57-66, 80)
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
"What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.

Today, we solemnly celebrate the Nativity of the Baptist. St. John is a man of contrasts: he lives in the silence of the desert, but right from there he appeals to the crowds with convincing voice inviting them to convert; he is humble enough to say he is only the voice, not the Word, but he does not mince his words and dares to accuse and denounce all injustices even to the very king; he urges his disciples to meet with Jesus, but he does not mind rebuking king Herod while he is in prison. Silent and humble, he is also strong and courageous enough to shed his blood. John the Baptist is a great man!, the greatest of them all, as Jesus himself will say in praise, but he is only Christ's precursor.

Perhaps, the secret of his greatness is the realization of knowing he has been chosen by God; this is how the evangelist explains it: «And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel» (Lk 1:80). All his childhood and youth was marked by the understanding of his mission: to provide testimony; which he does by baptizing Christ in the river Jordan, by favorably disposing the crowds for the Lord and, at the end of his life, by shedding his blood in favor of the truth.

Similarly to John the Baptist, whether you realize it or not through our baptism, we have been all chosen and sent to bear witness of the Lord, in an environment of indifference. Yes, that means you!

In any age the truth will always meet opposition. Jesus makes this very clear to those wishing to be his disciples. In any age, there are those who hear only what they want to hear. In any age, there are those who will do anything in order to continue living a lie - even kill.

John the Baptist is still relevant for us because as in any age, our age has an urgent need for disciples like John the Baptist.

Our world has an urgent need for witnesses.

We must witness that our identity is centered on true spirituality, and that our morality derives from that spirituality.

We must witness that our faith challenges many of the values of the dominant secular culture.

We must witness that our traditions have great meaning for us.

We must witness that challenging commitments offer firm principles by which we may live our lives.

We must witness that adherence to traditional morality often comes at a considerable personal cost: perhaps of losing family, friends, even jobs.

We must witness that what we have found in Christ Jesus is true, real and worth living out to the ultimate consequence.

We must witness that our seeking solely for lasting happiness as the meaning of life is an indictment of the falsehoods of past generations.

We must witness by striving for personal holiness, authenticity and integration. Witness has no room for complacency, hypocrisy, or self-indulgence.

To be a witness in this way is not an easy task. We may stumble and fall many times. However, the Lord will magnify our frail efforts into enormous accomplishments for the fulfillment of his salvific plan.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It is precisely in the crucible of intense suffering that we either come close to God or rebel against his loving presence.

"The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will -- above, below, without, or within -- you will find a cross in everything, and everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit an eternal crown. - Thomas a' Kempis

(Gospel Text: LK 9:18-24)
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “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.”

Most of us when we suffer wonder, why me. Why do I have to suffer?  The meaning of life will be become clearer to us when we realize that we will find purpose in life when our search leads us from why to whom. 

Suffering does have a human face to it.

We have only to look at our Lord Jesus crucified on the Cross and there we will find the meaning of our existence and the answer to our searching and longing.

In our suffering we demand answers.  We are not satisfied with pietistic platitudes such as "just offer it up" or "you will be just fine."  Suffering, especially chronic physical sickness, deep emotional pain and death itself, causes a personal crisis that forces us to go deep into ourselves and ask those questions that are most fundamental to our human existence. 

Undoubtedly there are many forms of suffering that are quite mysterious.  However, the need to carry our cross as an essential dimension of Christianity does not take away the need and the duty to seek cures for illnesses and to make this life a better life for everyone.  

Although human progress might make this earth a better place for everyone, suffering, in one form or another, will always be a part of our existence. 

The meaning of suffering only makes sense when we contemplate Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  

When we ask the question why, we need only look upon the crucifix.  It is there that we will find the meaning of suffering and the exact reason why we too must carry our own cross.  

I would like to end this reflection as it began, with the words of Thomas a' Kempis:

“If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one" (The Imitation of Christ, 2:12).”

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"No single thing is without Providence."

'I have never worried about our temporal affairs, and I have seen by experience that God has always provided for us. When we were two, Providence provided enough for two; for four when we were four; and when our number increased the needs of all were supplied, thus verifying the divine promise: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matt. vi. 33.) "Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on." (Matt. vi. 25.)' - St. Paul of the Cross

Gospel text: (MT 6:24-34)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

A hungry four-year-old opens the refrigerator door to search for a snack. She asks for candy or cookies or ice cream. But then her mother introduces her to reality: “If you’re hungry, have a sandwich, a piece of fruit, or yogurt.” If she were left to her own devices for too long, malnutrition would set in. It’s only through parental guidance that she is able to thrive.

It is the responsibility of this girl’s mother to get her child into the habit of coming to her first, before she sets her heart on something that may be bad for her. She knows that eventually her daughter will learn about the dangers of too much junk food and will choose more healthy snacks. But for now, Mom has to make all the decisions.

Can we develop a taste for the good food that God has to offer? Jesus says that the best thing we can ask for the Father to give us is “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He promises that if we seek these out, then our heavenly Father will provide for all our other needs—even many of our wants!

These words from Jesus sound so hopeful and inspiring, don’t they? But sometimes it’s hard for us to act on them. We may find them comforting, but when push comes to shove, we can still go for the “junk food” of self-centeredness and self-sufficiency.

Are you feeling anxious about your life right now? Are you feeling tempted to follow your own wisdom without asking for the Lord’s guidance? Don’t do it!

Don’t settle for anything less than all the goodness God has stored up for you!