Thursday, April 30, 2015

Embrace the power of little things and you will build a tower of mighty things

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. – Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997: Founded the Missionaries of Charity)

Gospel Text: (JN 13:16-20)
When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

There is a great paradox in our faith. We are, at one and the same time, so little and so great.

Picture a one-celled amoeba trying to get the attention of a human person. A typical human being has about 32 trillion cells. Why would a human being pay any attention to a infinitesimally small one-celled amoeba?

God is infinite, the Creator of a universe with a hundred billion galaxies, a universe that is billions of years old. Why would he pay any attention to an infinitesimally small human person living for a little time on a little planet in a little galaxy in this gigantic universe?

We who are infinitesimally small are made great through baptism. We, like John the Baptist, are not worthy to unfasten Jesus’ sandals. Yet Jesus says “he who accepts anyone I send accepts me, and in accepting me and the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) By grace we are identified as belonging to Christ.

That is why we have confidence when we pray. By ourselves we are nothing. Why would God pay any attention to us? But as members of the body of Christ through baptism, our prayers are with Christ and through Christ. And the Father always hears the prayers of the Son. (Cf. John 11:42)

Through the waters of baptism we are transformed from littleness to greatness. So very great, and yet willing to stoop down and wash feet, that is serve, because that’s what Jesus did.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

“The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it's here is up to us.”

Your life is something opaque, not transparent, as long as you look at it in an ordinary human way. But if you hold it up against the light of God's goodness, it shines and turns transparent, radiant and bright. And then you ask yourself in amazement: Is this really my own life I see before me? ~Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965: Medical missionary in Africa)

Gospel Text: (JN 12:44-50)
Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me believes not only in me
but also in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
I came into the world as light,
so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.
And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them,
I do not condemn him,
for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words
has something to judge him: the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day,
because I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

When you think of someone being condemned, what image comes to mind? A courtroom with a judge hammering his gavel? A stern jury? A pointing finger?

How about a flashlight? If you were trying to hide something, a flashlight would be very good for exposing whatever you were doing. You’d shrink back from it because it condemns you. If you were lost in the woods in the darkness, the flashlight would light the way back to the path, and you’d see its shining beam as your freedom.

Jesus said he came into the world as light. He came to shine his word and his truth into our hearts. But just like the flashlight, Jesus’ light can elicit different reactions, depending on our disposition. If we are open to him and trying to follow him, his light can bring us warmth and insight. It can illuminate our path, correct our missteps, and bring us closer to the salvation we are longing for. But if we are opposed to him, that very same light can feel cold and embarrassing. We might scramble to stay hidden from the light, only showing by our actions that we are rejecting Jesus. In both cases, it’s our own relationship to the Lord and his truth that either saves us or condemns us.

What is one of the best ways to experience the warmth of Jesus’ light? In the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Far from being a means of condemning us, Reconciliation is the perfect way to let the light of Christ probe and illuminate our hearts. Will there be areas that you don’t want to bring into the light? Probably. But remember, he didn’t come to condemn—only to save. So even when he brings your sin to light, remember that his light shines only to heal and restore, not to judge and dismiss.

So let the light shine on you today!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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

“I can see thanks to the sun light, but if I close my eyes, I cannot see; but this is not the fault of the sun, but mine.” - St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274: Dominican friar & Doctor of the Church)

Gospel Text: (JN 10:22-30)
The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem.
It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

Only through Faith is a person able to recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God. When Pope Saint John Paul II addressed the young people on the occasion of the 15th World Youth Day in 2000, he spoke about the “school of faith”. To the question «Who do the crowds say that I am? » (Lk 9:18), the Holy Father said there are many answers... But then Jesus asks a more personal question: «But who do you say that I am? ». To be able to answer like St. Peter did —«You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God» (Mt 16:16) — it takes God's grace and more importantly, you have to have an open heart to receive that grace. If your heart is hard or full of pride God’s grace will never get in!

God wishes everybody to believe and be saved but only humble men and women are able to receive the gift of grace. «But with the humble is wisdom», can be read in the Book of Proverbs (11:2). Man's true wisdom consists of trusting God.

Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice (Jn 10:27). Faith allows us to connect with Jesus through prayer. What else is a prayer but a way to communicate with Jesus Christ, who loves us and takes us to the Father? And the outcome and reward of this intimacy with Jesus in this life is eternal life, as we have read in the Gospel today.

Monday, April 27, 2015

“What is important is not what you hear said, it's what you observe.”

“The creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; a child of a prince, to a peasant.” -St. Anthony of Padua (1195 – 1231: Franciscan & Doctor of the Church)

Gospel Text: (JN 10:1-10)
Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Do you hear voices? We all do, you know—all different kinds of voices.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we are able to recognize his voice. It’s the voice of the Good Shepherd, a voice that we, his “sheep,” know and respond to (John 10:4). His voice speaks words of care and protection. He points us toward paths of safety and provision. He speaks words of acceptance and love.

What are you hearing?

You have the ability to control this inner conversation. You can choose whom to listen to. Blaise Pascal once said, “Man is so made that if he is told often enough that he is a fool he believes it. By telling himself often enough he convinces himself, because when he is alone he carries on an inner dialogue with himself which is important to keep under proper control.” Don’t let that happen! Don’t pay attention to any voice that contradicts what the Good Shepherd is telling you.

Friday, April 24, 2015

“The deepest of level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless ... beyond speech ... beyond concept.”

“When we work hard, we must eat well. What a joy, that you can receive Holy Communion often! It’s our life and support in this life – Receive Communion often, and Jesus will change you into Himself.” - Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811 – 1868 French Catholic priest and founder of two religious institutes)

Gospel Text: (JN 6:52-59)
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Imagine a live human being in front of you saying: "Eat My flesh and drink My blood." This turned a lot of people off, but Jesus refused to change His terminology. Holy Communion really is Jesus. And how can we convey to a child making his or her First Communion the true nature of what Jesus meant when he said, "Let Me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53)?

First Communion is a sacrament which is a conduit of God’s grace. Sacraments are actions which manifest God working in our lives.

The promise of Jesus is clear, “…whoever eats this bread will live forever.” That is a lot to take in, especially for a second grader upon their First Communion… that is a lot to take in for a person of any age. As we receive Jesus in Holy Eucharist in the state of grace, we are united with him… for eternity.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

“The Bible is a letter from Almighty God to His creatures.”

The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. From the Scriptures we can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection. – Pope St Gregory (540 – 604 known as Saint Gregory the Great)

Scripture Text: (ACTS 8:26-40 )
The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,
“Get up and head south on the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.”
So he got up and set out.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
a court official of the Candace,
that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,
in charge of her entire treasury,
who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home.
Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip,
“Go and join up with that chariot.”
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said,
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
He replied,
“How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
This was the Scripture passage he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply,
“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?
About himself, or about someone else?”
Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage,
he proclaimed Jesus to him.
As they traveled along the road
they came to some water,
and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water.
What is to prevent my being baptized?”
Then he ordered the chariot to stop,
and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water,
and he baptized him.
When they came out of the water,
the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,
and the eunuch saw him no more,
but continued on his way rejoicing.
Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news
to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

This story underlines the importance of knowing Scripture. If we want to do more than give a cursory explanation for our faith, there’s no substitute for steeping ourselves in God’s word and asking the Holy Spirit to bring it to life in us every day. As we do, we’ll find ourselves, like Philip, able to speak from personal experience in a way that imparts life and hope. Our words will touch people’s hearts not because we have become gifted speakers, but because the Holy Spirit is speaking through us.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

“Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” ― C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963 Novelist & Lay Theologian)

Gospel Text: (JN 6:44-51)
Jesus said to the crowds:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:

They shall all be taught by God.

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my Flesh for the life of the world.”

Vacations, travel and journeys of all kinds can provide the opportunity for a new perspective and time to pay attention to the deeper desires for our life. In the busyness of our usual work or routines, it is easy to discount nudges and “divine elbowing” as distractions from our responsibilities. We are all “hungry” for “something” and underneath all those desires for that “something”, whether we realize it or not is our hunger for God. Why, because God made us all and loves us all! Even though each person is different, our origin is the same and our longing to return to our origin is also the same. The key is to realize it.

How often do we “make a trip to Jerusalem” to search for the food, the Bread of Life, the “living bread” who is Jesus, the Christ? How often do we “make do” with fast food, which only serves to dampen the hunger, but doesn’t really satisfy?

Like signs along the highway announcing restaurants up ahead, God is always trying to get our attention! Do we notice? The signs are endless, coming in the form of a supportive friend, a challenging co-worker, a sun filled day or a stranger on the road who instructs us, inviting us to a deeper understanding of our soul’s true calling and purpose.

Am I hungry enough to stop?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"We have him [God] before our eyes, masked in the sacred Host,"

“How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment."- St. John Chrysostom (349 – 407, Archbishop of Constantinople)

Gospel Text: (JN 6:30-35)
The crowd said to Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

So Jesus said to them,

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

We shouldn’t think badly of the people who were following Jesus looking for bread. They were relying on their past experience: Jesus had fed them when they were hungry in the past; they were hungry now, so they assumed he would feed them once again. They believed he could provide for them. They even compared this miracle to the way God miraculously fed the Israelites in the desert.

But their sights were set too low; their horizon was too narrow. It was as if they had blinders on. Jesus had so much more in store for them than ordinary bread! He didn’t just want to solve their immediate problem of hunger; he wanted them never to be hungry again. He wanted to give them his very self so that they would be profoundly nourished.

Let’s remove our blinders today! Let’s not succumb to narrow vision

Maybe you are struggling today and just want to see Jesus smooth things out for you. But what if he wants to do more? Maybe he wants to lift your spirit above your struggles or show you how to deal with them once and for all. Maybe you’re planning on going to Confession but just want to “get it over with.” What if Jesus wants this to be the best confession of your life? Maybe he wants to give you deep freedom over a sin pattern or confidence in his unfailing love.

Give him the freedom to go deeper than you asked!

Monday, April 20, 2015

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

Gospel Text: (JN 6:22-29)
After Jesus had fed the five thousand men, his disciples saw him walking on the sea.]
The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea
saw that there had been only one boat there,
and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat,
but only his disciples had left.
Other boats came from Tiberias
near the place where they had eaten the bread
when the Lord gave thanks.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

In today’s Gospel, John tells us that on the day after Jesus had fed the 5000 a crowd of people sought him out. They had to travel across the Sea of Galilee to find him. When they found Jesus they had one question for him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

Perhaps they wanted to be able to do the amazing things that Jesus did. Perhaps they were asking Jesus if he had any tasks for them to do. Jesus answer seems quite simple, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

Jesus asks them, and us, to believe in him. Simple enough

Friday, April 17, 2015

In our ignorance of what the future holds, how can we be so bold as to question what comes about by God's permission?

The holiest man is not he who is in the holiest state of life; it is he who fulfils most perfectly the duties of the state in which Divine Providence has placed him. ~ St. Lidwina (1380 - 1433AD Dutch saint)

Gospel Text: (JN 6:1-15)
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

What did the disciples learn that day?

They learned to look at needs through the lens of God’s compassion. They learned to put their own meager offerings into Jesus’ hands, and to do so unselfishly. They learned to give thanks to God before and after each request. And they learned to rely on the power of God as they built the kingdom.

Jesus wants to do the same thing for us. He wants us to become vessels of his grace in the world. So whenever he brings a need to your attention, pay attention. He is not just asking you what you think. As he did with Philip, he’s inviting you to join him in doing something wonderful about it. If you’re alert for his direction and willing to take a step of faith, you’ll see wonders!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. ~Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918 – 2008 Russian novelist and critic of Soviet totalitarianism)

Scripture Text: (ACTS 5:27-33)
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

What is authority and where does it come from? How do we recognize it? What examples of authority should we follow?

In Acts 5, we see a tension between the religious authorities who were used to operating in a structure that granted them power and control, and the apostles who were teaching and healing in the name of Jesus, seemingly with an authority that was unexplainable and certainly not authorized by the “powers that be.” Maybe people didn’t understand where this authority came from, but they certainly recognized it when they saw it. Isn’t it the same with us? We see people in positions of power, but often their pronouncements and their actions ring hollow; we also see people who have no position or prestige, yet their way of speaking, acting, and being can affect us in very powerful ways.

This tension is one that I think we feel often, from a wide variety of authority figures. Pope Francis even spoke about it in his Christmas message to Vatican officials this past winter, warning those ecclesiastical authorities not to get into a way of proceeding where the position becomes the most important thing:

"This is the disease of persons who insatiably try to accumulate power and to this end are ready to slander, defame and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally, so as to put themselves on display and to show that they are more capable than others. This disease does great harm to the Body because it leads persons to justify the use of any means whatsoever to attain their goal, often in the name of justice and transparency!"

So the questions for us to think about today are: Who has authority in my life? Those whose influence comes only from titles and appointments and positions? Or those who are close to the God who hears the cry of the just, and is close to the brokenhearted and those who are crushed in spirit? Which examples of authority pull me at my core and inspire me to do good in the world? That is real authority, the one that we are called to follow. It may be unsanctioned and unauthorized by those accustomed to wielding influence, but it certainly has authenticity and the power to inspire us to become more Christ-like.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against.”

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ― C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963 Novelist, Poet, and Lay Theologian)

Gospel text: (JN 3:16-21)
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God

Today's gospel passage identifies Christ to be «the way, and the truth, and the life» (Jn 14:6).

Christ is not just another opinion. Christ is Truth itself. To deny truth is like someone who insists on closing his eyes from the sun-light. Whether he likes it or not, the sun will always be there; but sadly many people in our society have freely chosen to close their eyes from the “sun-light of truth”. Likewise, many spend themselves on their careers or in other material pursuits; they claim to fulfill their full potential, forgetting that they can only attain the truth about themselves by walking with Christ.

Never forget this; those who believe in the Lord and call to Him will be aided. He will not abandon his own. But first there must be that request.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

We are 100 percent responsible for the pursuit of holiness, but at the same time we are 100 percent dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us in that pursuit.

Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven. -- St. Ephraem (306-373AD Deacon & Doctor of the Church)

Gospel Text: (JN 3:7B-15)
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus answered and said to him,
‘How can this happen?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Amen, amen, I say to you,
we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen,
but you people do not accept our testimony.
If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe,
how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Meteorologists have developed finely-tuned instruments to measure natural forces that help them predict the weather. But in Jesus’ time, weather was a bit of a mystery. No one could pin down the wind. You couldn’t find its starting point or know when it would shift direction. It was always doing something unexpected. And so Jesus used this natural phenomenon to illustrate how surprising life is when you try to follow the Spirit.

On the face of it, the Spirit’s work doesn’t always seem to follow human logic. That shouldn’t surprise us, of course; earthly things are not like heavenly things! Earthly expectations don’t always predict or reflect heavenly realities. So being “born from above” is not just a patched-up earthly existence (John 3:7). It’s not a predictable progression toward a nobler version of your human self. It’s a bracing gust of wind from a God who loves to challenge assumptions and turn things upside down!

Look back over your life. Where have you seen the Holy Spirit blowing you onto a new and different path? Think about a time when God surprised you, maybe by deepening your faith as you endured a stormy period. Maybe there was a family emergency that brought people together. Maybe you lost your job, but new opportunities opened up.

So the lesson for today is God may be unpredictable, but he is completely trustworthy!

Whether the wind of his Spirit blows hard or gently, he will always respond to our faith with more grace and a deeper relationship with him. So let the lessons from your past help you lay hold of your faith in the present and the future!

Monday, April 13, 2015

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

“Our baptism has changed us, given us a new and glorious hope, and empowered us to bring God’s redeeming love to all, particularly the poor, in whom we see the face of Christ.” – Pope Francis

Gospel Text: (JN 3:1-8)
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
He came to Jesus at night and said to him,
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,
for no one can do these signs that you are doing
unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to him,
“How can a man once grown old be born again?
Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you,
‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills,
and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

When I die, the presider at my funeral will say, over my coffin, “At his baptism, Joseph died with Christ and rose with him to new life.” That’s what this passage from the gospel of John is all about. Nicodemus is obviously puzzled, and it’s a mystery equally hard for us to get our heads around. Many times we tend to take Jesus’ statements in Scripture as mere figures of speech – flowery language. But what if it were literally true?

There are dozens of instances throughout both the gospels and St. Paul’s letters that, taken at face value, seem to assume that it is exactly true. In today’s gospel Jesus, of course, is not speaking of physical birth, as Nicodemus first thought. He was speaking of life itself; he was speaking of the spirit that animates us, the spirit that in subsequent centuries we came to call our “soul”. He was saying that, unless Jesus’ Spirit animates us – in a sense replaces our soul – we will not share His life. But it’s not a matter of our willing it. It’s what happens in baptism. We can’t do it ourselves; God does it for us.

In short, we can ignore that “Jesus-life” given to us through the Sacraments, especially through our baptism; we can fail to respond to its urgings; we can be lukewarm – or even bad – Christians. But, once baptized, once our human life is replaced by Jesus’ own life, we can never again be non-Christian. Baptism is not simply entrance into an organization, which we can drop out of whenever it no longer seems to suit our needs. It is a life change that is irreversible. It’s not an ideal we have to strive toward. It’s a reality we have to live.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

“Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.” ― Søren Kierkegaard (1813 –1855 Danish philosopher, theologian, and poet)

Gospel Text: (JN 20:19-31)
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

In today’s gospel the story of Thomas is a powerful example of paradox.  Thomas is a man with deep faith in Jesus, yet he struggles to believe that Jesus has risen.  Thomas embodies the paradox of faith and doubt.  We often say seeing is believing but perhaps seeing is simply seeing.  Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you come to believe in me because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

When you think about it, Thomas was true to himself and his doubt.  He was living with the tension of paradox.   While Thomas was confident of his love for Jesus and still reeling from his grief about the death of Jesus, he was unsure of his capacity to believe that Jesus had risen.  That does not mean he did not want to believe, he was simply struggling to do so.   As the only member of the group who had not seen Jesus appear in the locked Upper Room, Thomas asked the tough questions.

How many times do I ask God for a sign?  What kind of proof of God’s love am I unknowingly looking for in my life?

So here’s the lesson: even though our faith goes up and down, Jesus remains with us. He always extends his hand to us. He is always ready to draw us back to himself.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Obedience is, without doubt, more meritorious than any austerity

A little drop of simple obedience is worth a million times more than a whole vase full of the choicest contemplations. ----St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1566 – 1607 Carmelite Nun)

Gospel Test: (JN 21:1-14)
Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

That night they caught nothing!

And when the day breaks and Jesus appears, they do not recognize him until He asks them for something to eat. When they tell him they have nothing, He just points out where they are to throw their net. And, even though fishermen seem to know all the answers and they had spent the night to no avail, they obey him. «O the power of the obedience. The lake of Tiberias was refusing its fish to Peter's nets. An entire night in vain. —But now, obedient, he returns the net to the water and they caught (...) a full load of fish. —Believe me: the miracle repeats itself daily» (Saint Josemaria).

If we obey him we shall not lack either the spiritual or the material food. Jesus taught this to his closest followers 2000 years ago and he is teaching it to us today, if we choose to listen.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

If our words are not consistent with our actions, they will never be heard

“If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.” - Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862 American author)

Gospel Text: (LK 24:35-48)

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way,
and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

Today’s gospel from Mass ends with the sentence, “You are witnesses of these things.” So I guess the question we all have to ask ourselves is - Are we witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection in our everyday life?

One of the people who inspired me was a middle-aged widow from my parish who worked two jobs to feed and educate her two children. And yet she found time to be of help to the old and sick in her neighborhood, and was a source of energy in the Church community. Her prayer flowed into action, and her simple, quiet life was a living witness to others. For me, and many others, she allowed Christ’s love and light burning in her heart, to shine through her and take away the darkness in those she served without trying to draw attention to herself.

“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk 24:48)

These are Jesus’ words to his close friends soon after the Resurrection, when he appears to them in Jerusalem. And these are the same words he has for us this very day!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

“What difference does it make if the bread and wine turn into the Body and Blood of Christ and we don't?”

"This supernatural bread and this consecrated chalice are for the health and salvation of mankind." - St. Cyprian (200 – 258AD Bishop of Carthage)

Gospel Text: (LK 24:13-35)
That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”
They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his Body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, “Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the Eleven and those with them who were saying,
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

There have been many times when I have thought having the opportunity to hear Jesus preaching and seeing him working miracles would make it so much easier to believe. An honest placement of myself in the story of the road to Emmaus helps me to realize that would not make the difference. Jesus reveals himself to me every time I receive the Eucharist. He is there with me throughout my days. All I have to do is be willing to open my eyes and my heart and recognize his presence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

“Knowing it and seeing it are two different things.”

The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn't detect. - MARK TWAIN (1835 – 1910 American author and humorist)

Gospel Text: (JN 20:11-18)
Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.

Place a straw in a clear glass of water. Doesn’t it look a bit distorted in its new place? Or try looking out your window during a rainstorm. Doesn’t the water on the windowpane blur your view? This is called refraction, the same process by which eyeglasses can help correct a person’s vision.

Sometimes our spiritual vision gets distorted too, and we need help to correct it. This is one way of looking at what happened to Mary Magdalene in today’s Gospel reading. She was so distraught at Jesus’ empty tomb that all she could see was a conspiracy to remove his dead body. Her vision was so skewed that even when Jesus stood before her, all she could see was a gardener. But then, as Pope Francis put it, “rather than feel like she had failed again, she simply cries. Sometimes in our lives tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”

So keep your eyes open. Be like Mary Magdalene , and look again. And again. And again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile... initially scared me to death.

Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for he who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God, for having created me. -- St. Clare of Assisi

Gospel Text: (MT 28:8-15)
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the news to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city
and told the chief priests all that had happened.
The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel;
then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers,
telling them, “You are to say,
‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’
And if this gets to the ears of the governor,
we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.
And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.

"Jesus said to them: 'Do not be afraid!' (Mt 28:10)

When the first followers of Jesus learned that He had risen, some were half-fearful and half-overjoyed (Mt 28:8). This divided reaction still occurs today. When we first encounter the risen Jesus, we rejoice with great joy. Yet we also realize quickly that risen life brings new challenges and new responsibilities.

Satan couldn't prevent the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, so now he is reduced to trying to stop us from spreading the good news that Jesus is alive and has conquered sin and death forever. One of the main ways Satan tries to limit the spread of the good news is to tempt Jesus' witnesses to be afraid — afraid of evangelizing, afraid of radical lifestyle changes, afraid of stepping out in faith, afraid of change. If Satan can take hold of at least a part of us, he's well on his way to reducing us from a half-witness to no witness at all. Therefore, Jesus immediately told His first witnesses: "Do not be afraid" (Mt 28:10).

Jesus confronted fear by issuing a challenge: he sent His followers out to go and tell the good news (see Mt 28:10).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

And he departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him.  For He departed, and behold, He is here.  ~St Augustine

Scripture Text: (JN 20:1-9)
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

A life-changing encounter with the risen Lord ought not to be thought of as the privilege of the few, but an invitation to all.  But can I dare to hope for such an encounter?  How can this be my experience and not simply that of others?  Pope Francis extends to us a challenging invitation:  “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”

On this Easter Day, let us be bold in asking for this renewed encounter.