Monday, March 31, 2014

“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.”  - Mother Teresa

Gospel text (Jn 4,43-54): Jesus left for Galilee. Jesus himself said that no prophet is recognized in his own country. Yet the Galileans welcomed him when He arrived, because of all the things He had done in Jerusalem during the Festival and which they had seen. For they, too, had gone to the feast. Jesus went back to Cana of Galilee where He had changed the water into wine. 

At Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill, and when he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and asked him to come and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus said, «Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe!». The official said, «Sir, come down before my child dies». And Jesus replied, «Go, your son is living».

The man had faith in the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. He was already going down the hilly road when his servants met him with this news, «Your son has recovered!». So he asked them at what hour the child had begun to recover and they said to him, «The fever left him yesterday in the afternoon about one o'clock». And the father realized that it was the time when Jesus told him, «Your son is living». And he became a believer, he and all his family. Jesus performed this second miraculous sign when he returned from Judea to Galilee.

This gospel passage should remind us all that we can do a lot of good from a distance, that is, without having to necessarily be present when our generosity is requested. We can, thus, help the Third World simply by collaborating economically with our Missions or with Catholic organizations that may be working over there. Or let us help those in need on the marginal suburbs of our own big cities with our contributions to institutions  without our having to set foot there. Or, we can even make a lot of people far away happy by means of just a telephone call, a letter or an e-mail.

Quite often we do not perform a good deed by excusing ourselves because of our impossibility to be physically present wherever there is an urgent need for outside help. Jesus did not use that excuse. 

He was not at Capernaum, but He simply performed the miracle.

 If you want to be generous, distance should be no problem, for our generosity comes all the way directly from our heart and it crosses all frontiers. As Saint Augustine said: «He who is charitable at heart, always finds something to give».

Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Polished brass will pass upon more people than rough gold.”

“Our shoes carry our body, so we polish them; our body carries our soul, so we clean the body, but, what about our soul”?

Scripture Text: (1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A)
The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

God is looking for people with pure hearts, people who will be faithful and obedient. He is looking for people who are willing to be formed by him. King Saul, David’s predecessor, had turned away from God, but in David, God found a man with a soft heart and a willing spirit.

God isn’t looking for the smartest, the wealthiest, the most beautiful, or the flashiest person. He is looking for people who are committed to him and who strive to model their lives after his teachings.

In talking about David’s heart, we need to know that David had a heart that hungered for God. David said in Ps 42:1 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” David had a hunger for God, not just what God could offer, but for God. David understood how much God loved him and he loved God. David repeatedly spoke in the Psalms about how God’s love and faithfulness is higher than the skies.

The question for us is, “Do you hunger and thirst for God like David did?” “Do you search after God and desire a deeper walk with him or are you satisfied?”

The good news is that God says we will find if we seek.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.”

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

Gospel text (LK 18,9-14): Jesus told another parable to some persons fully convinced of their own righteousness, who looked down on others: «Two men went up to the Temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and said: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give the tenth of all my income to the Temple’. In the meantime the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner’. I tell you, when this man went down to his house, he had been set right with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised».

The Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading was harboring two illusions: one, that he had no sin and, the other, that his religious acts alone earned him God’s favor. Here was a man who trusted in himself quite a bit—even to the point of praying “to himself” (Luke 18:11).

On the other end of the spectrum was the tax collector. This fellow had no illusions about himself. He knew that he didn’t measure up. He didn’t claim to be holy. He realized how needy he was, and so he pleaded with God, “Be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

What was lacking in the Pharisee’s prayer? Humility, recognition of his need, and repentance made up the whole of the tax collector’s plea.

Jesus doesn’t lead us to believe that the Pharisee is not telling the truth when he says that he is not «grasping, crooked, adulterous» (Lk 18:11) and that he fasts and gives money to the Temple, nor that the tax-collector is delusional in thinking himself a sinner. This is not the question. Rather it is that «the Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience which plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love. Jesus can move sinners» (Benedict XVI).

We are getting close to Holy Week. Soon we shall contemplate —once more!— Christ on the Cross:
There, we shall see how, before Dimas' (the good thief next to Jesus on the cross) ) pleading —«Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom» (Lk 23:42)— the Lord responds with a “sudden canonization” without any precedent: «I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise» (Lk 23:43). That person was a murderer who, before dying, was finally canonized by the very same Christ. For us this is a consolation.

Sanctity is not “manufactured” by us, but granted by God, if He finds our heart to be humble and converted.

Friday, March 28, 2014

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

“Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today.” ― Malcolm X

Gospel Text: (MK 12:28-34)
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Understanding. It is how Jesus recognizes the sincerity of his disciple after his teaching on the two most fundamental pillars of Christianity. How often do I say something without understanding? It happens to us all the time, right! If we find this lack of understanding important in our daily conversations then how much greater is the need for it when we speak of our faith?

There is a story about a young Carmelite nun who, when praying the Our Father, could not bring herself to move past the first line "Our Father" without succumbing to a flood of tears. She understood what it truly means to have a Father in Heaven, watching after us, holding our hand when we walk, and picking us up when we fall. I have said the Our Father countless times, but many times all I say are the words and lack the deep understanding Jesus wanted to express to us through this prayer. For most of us, our entire prayer lives can become like this. We go through the motions at Mass because we have been there and know what's coming. We even can sometimes doze off during the homily or the Eucharistic Prayer.

So, how do we understand? That is what Jesus wants from us right? Let's start with this: slow yourself down today and sit in the presence of Christ and say to yourself, "I believe." Nothing more, nothing less. Throw yourself on Jesus for everything and you will begin to understand, even if those moments of clarity come few and far between. In prayer when you start to doubt whether or not you are talking to the ceiling say to yourself, "I believe." When you go grocery shopping and someone cuts you off and steals that parking space check yourself and say, "I believe." At work when you become frustrated in the wages you are earning and the struggle of putting your kids through school say to yourself, "I believe." We must begin to trust in Jesus Christ. To love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength and to love our neighbor as our self.

How do we understand? How do we trust that the words we speak our truth? Go to Him in the Eucharist and say once more, "I believe"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.

"If we could comprehend all the good things contained in Holy Communion, nothing more would be wanting to content the heart of man. The miser would run no more after his treasures, or the ambitious after glory; each would shake off the dust of the earth, leave the world, and fly away towards heaven," - St. John Vianney

Scripture Text: (PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9)
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.

R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”

R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

“Is my heart hard or soft? Am I open to the Lord or just going through the motions?

I know this Responsorial Psalm is familiar to all of us. As a child I used to think it was silly. Who would harden his or her heart on hearing God’s voice? Then as I got older, the depth of what was being asked became clearer.

In a real sense we all risk hardening our hearts at the call of God’s voice. Hopefully the Psalm will help us remember to soften it a little.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No man has the mind of Christ, except him who makes it his business to obey him

Sometimes we don't need another chance to express how we feel or to ask someone to understand our situation. Sometimes we just need a firm kick in the pants. An unsmiling expectation that if we mean all these wonderful things we talk about and sing about, then lets see something to prove it. --Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian &  Martyr)

Gospel text (Mt 5:17-19): Jesus said to his disciples, «Do not think that I have come to remove the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to remove but to fulfill them. I tell you this: as long as heaven and earth last, not the smallest letter or stroke of the Law will change until all is fulfilled. So then, whoever breaks the least important of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be the least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys them and teaches others to do the same will be great in the kingdom of heaven».

When Jesus turned over the money changer’s tables in the Temple (Mt 21:12-13) he was giving a radical witness to the truth, and we should remember that the gospel is never good news unless it is radical. The word "radical" comes from the Latin word "radix" which means "root". To be radical is to go back to the basics. It is to get back to what is essential. To believe and live a radical Catholic faith, therefore, is to get back to the basic, table turning, upside down life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In her important book Forming Intentional Disciples Sherry Weddell explains that an "intentional disciple" is someone who has encountered the table turning Jesus and taken a step of complete and total commitment to him. The intentional disciple then lives a radically different life to those in the world around him. The intentional disciple lives the gospel and proclaims the gospel through a life transformed by the risen Christ.

Some Catholics worry that this sort of radical Catholicism is fanatical Catholicism. They see Catholics who are either "sold out" or "110% Catholic" and they are scared away. We don't need fanatical Catholics, but we do need radical Catholics. That is, they have gone back to the roots of the religion and found Christ the Lord--the one who “turns over the tables” and shows us how to live lives of complete and profound unity with himself.

Radical Catholicism is real Catholicism. It is both gritty and glorious, humble and happy, beautiful and blessed, simple and splendid--and it is not only radical, it is radiant.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Definitive decisions: They are really the only ones that allow us to grow, to move ahead

“It was to a virgin woman that the birth of the Son of God was announced. It was to a fallen woman (Mary Magdalene) that His Resurrection was announced.” ― Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ

Gospel Text: (LK 1:26-38)
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

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

Today's celebration, then, stands at the center of the drama of salvation: Without today, no cross and resurrection; without today, no Church or sacraments; without today, no eternal life on high with God.

Mary is, to be sure, our model for acceptance and invitation to faithfully respond to the word of God in our lives. Mary’s discerning response to Gabriel’s announcement models for us our acceptance of God’s invitations in our own unique circumstances.

Am I ready? Am I fit for the task? Do I deserve to be in this position? How will it all work out? These and many similar questions, all of which focus on me, pale in comparison to the recognition and the response to the One who calls me. I need, like Mary, to focus not on myself, but on the Lord who calls. And that makes all the difference in the world. As with Mary, my call is to recognize that God is with me and to trust in that despite what I see as my failings or any hesitations I may have.

Ultimately, the carrying out of an invitation like the Annunciation to Mary depends only on the YES she said in response to Gabriel: I am the handmaid of the lord. May it be done to me according to your word. The rest is up to God; and that’s clearly the most important point of the Annunciation account, and any call/announcement that reaches our ears/hearts.

Always remember: Nothing is “impossible for God” (Luke 1:37)!!!! Our Father can do whatever he wants, whenever and wherever he wants. But for some reason, he prefers to do his work in and through us. So as we celebrate this great day when Mary submitted to God’s will, let’s make the same decision. Let’s make sure we are open to the possibility that God may want to change some of our plans. Let’s all say, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

“Recognizing isn't at all like seeing; the two often don't even agree.”

What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are. - C.S. LEWIS

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

“When shall I go and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:3)

Often we long for signs. After all, we live in the age of science; without evidence or proof what good are hopeful words? Like the motto on the Missouri State license plate, we are the “show me” people. Where do I find the face of God? Where is the sign that shows me faith is real?

At a distance we follow life in a casual way. Only after we put a face on the words, do we hasten to understand and seek truth. Afghanistan was far away until the young man from down the street who went to school with our son was killed in the war. Gay people were just another group until a daughter confides in her parents. The debates over immigration are unending until a man we know is picked up while driving his grandchildren to school and held in detention. Science esteems the universal, but it is the particular that rouses us from lethargy to enter more deeply into the complex realities of the world.

Jesus’ neighbors were enraged when he suggested that they did not know him. Of course, they knew the child who had grown up in their midst. Like the Nazarenes we are often captive to the familiar. We long for signs but miss what is right before us. If only we would sink lower to see like a child. Then when we pause before sleep to examine the day, we might be surprised by God’s face.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

“...that yearning inside you that seeks for fulfillment - does it still burn?...”

“Our poor human heart is flawed: it is like a cake without the frosting: the first two acts of the theatre without the climax. Even its design is marred for a small piece is missing out of the side. That is why it remains so unsatisfied: it wants life and it gets death: it wants Truth and it has to settle for an education; it craves love and gets only intermittent euphoria’s with satieties. Samples, reflections and fractions are only tastes, not mouthfuls. A divine trick has been played on the human heart as if a violin teacher gave his pupil an instrument with one string missing. God kept a part of man's heart in Heaven, so that discontent would drive him back again to Him Who is Eternal Life, All-Knowing Truth and the Abiding Ecstasy of Love.” ― Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Gospel text (Jn 4,5-42):
Jesus came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well is there. Tired from his journey, Jesus sat down by the well; it was about noon. 

Now a Samaritan woman came to draw water and Jesus said to her, «Give me a drink». His disciples had just gone into town to buy some food. The Samaritan woman said to him, «How is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?» (For Jews, in fact, have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus replied, «If you only knew the Gift of God! If you knew who it is that asks you for a drink, you yourself would have asked me and I would have given you living water».

The woman answered, «Sir, you have no bucket and this well is deep; where is your living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well after he drank from it himself, together with his sons and his cattle?». Jesus said to her, «Those who drink of this water will be thirsty again; but those who drink of the water that I shall give will never be thirsty; for the water that I shall give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life». The woman said to him, «Give me this water, that I may never be thirsty and never have to come here to draw water». Jesus said, «Go, call your husband and come back here». The woman answered, «I have no husband». And Jesus replied, «You are right to say: ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you said is true».

The woman then said to him, «I see you are a prophet; tell me this: Our fathers used to come to this mountain to worship God; but you Jews, do you not claim that Jerusalem is the only place to worship God?». Jesus said to her, «Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you shall worship the Father, but that will not be on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship without knowledge, while we Jews worship with knowledge, for salvation comes from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is even now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for that is the kind of worshippers the Father wants. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth».

The woman said to him, «I know that the Messiah, that is the Christ, is coming; when he comes, he will tell us everything». And Jesus said, «I who am talking to you, I am he».

At this point the disciples returned and were surprised that Jesus was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, «What do you want?» or: «Why are you talking with her?». So the woman left her water jar and ran to the town. There she said to the people, «Come and see a man who told me everything I did! Could he not be the Christ?». So they left the town and went to meet him.

In the meantime the disciples urged Jesus, «Master, eat». But He said to them, «I have food to eat that you don't know about». And the disciples wondered, «Has anyone brought him food?». Jesus said to them, «My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to carry out his work. You say that in four more months it will be the harvest; now, I say to you, look up and see the fields white and ready for harvesting. People who reap the harvest are paid for their work, and the fruit is gathered for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. Indeed the saying holds true: ‘One sows and another reaps’. I sent you to reap where you didn't work or suffer; others have worked and you are now sharing in their labors».

In that town many Samaritans believed in him when they heard the woman who declared, «He told me everything I did». So, when they came to him, they asked him to stay with them and Jesus stayed there two days. After that many more believed because of his own words and they said to the woman, «We no longer believe because of what you told us; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is the Savior of the world».

Do we thirst for God? Or is our thirst more for filling our bellies? The fact is, human nature has not changed. We continue to struggle with remaining faithful, as did the Israelites. It is important for us to admit our weaknesses and our need for God's mercy, forgiveness, and unceasing aid.

Thus our Lenten journey through the desert can take a number of forms. We can journey with purpose, faithfully and joyfully, having drunk the living water yet still thirsting for Jesus. In this journey, we embrace the disciplines of Lent in order to prayerfully empty ourselves, build self-mastery, care for the poor, and thus be filled all the more with the divine life of God.

Another type of journey is that of the desert wanderer. This is a directionless, uncertain journey in which people become lost while gazing at the mundane stones at their feet. The lure of the world has clouded their vision; they do not look forward and upward but rather only back at the way they have come. They seek little more than filling their bellies. It is a sad state.

In any case, Jesus waits at the well. He asks you for a drink. However, he wants nothing from you but your love for him.