Tuesday, June 30, 2015

“Because God is never cruel, there is a reason for all things. We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others.”

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” – C.S. Lewis: (1898 – 1963: English Academic, Poet, and Novelist)

Gospel text: (MT 8:23-27)
As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

Matthew's Gospel story about Jesus calming the stormy sea causes us to sit up and take notice of Jesus’ divine nature. Many of his other miracles – water into wine, healings, bringing people who have died back to life – while definitely awe-inspiring are more “personal.” They involve him doing an amazing, unbelievable act to fulfill a need for someone he cares about. They do defy the natural order to be sure, but they seem somehow simpler to understand than the story we read today.

Calming a turbulent storm by rebuking the winds and sea goes to a whole new level. It's hard to get our minds around it. The wind, the water – these are raw elements of nature – they are chaotic; they don't respond to human desires. Anyone who has ever been caught in a blinding downpour, let alone with crashing waves, knows the unpredictability – and the fear – they produce.

And that's the point. Only God – the Creator, the mastermind behind the universe – could do something like this. Even his disciples, though they were inspired by him and committed to him, were "amazed,” and asked, "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" I imagine that after the initial gasps and mutterings, they had to have been somewhat dumbstruck as the reality of who Jesus was sunk in.

Whenever we may be afraid the earth is collapsing under our feet, let us not forget that our Savior is God himself who made man and that He is always close to us, most especially when we face our own “stormy seas”.

Monday, June 29, 2015

“In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.”

“In all His acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know Him and seek Him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to His divine purpose. All that is done by the will of God in secret is done for His glory and for the good of those whom He has chosen to share in His glory.” – Fr. Thomas Merton: (1915 – 1968: American Trappist Monk and writer)
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.”
We are reminded again that our mind is not God’s mind. We cannot always explain the extremes that evil can progress before God defeats the plans of the devil. We can become very demoralized by the chaos and calamity of evil in our world. In our first reading from today’s Mass, God seemed to allow Herod early success in his effort to persecute the Church and take the life of Peter. While Peter’s execution was imminent and God could have intervened sooner, His plan tested the faith of His people and God’s power was revealed in an even greater way by the last minute reprieve. Peter’s own faith and those who looked to Peter were confirmed in spite of their patience and faith being challenged (Acts 12:1-11). 

If Peter were to be asked in the ensuing years if he would have wanted God to have had him released sooner, we could only imagine that he would be content to have seen the wisdom and power of our Creator.

In faith, we pray. When confronted with evil and death, we must strive to not pray against our foes, but for our friends and for the manifestation of God’s will in our world. As we run our own “races” let us take time to reflect and pray, as the early church prayed for Peter. With the Lord, we too can “fight the fight, run the race and keep the faith”.

With God, all things are indeed possible.

Friday, June 26, 2015

God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him

“Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can't see it. So quietly submit to be painted---i.e., keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk---don't keep on looking at it.” ― C.S. Lewis: (1898 – 1963: Novelist & Lay Theologian)

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.”

Today’s readings from Mass cause me to reflect upon how we show trust in our relationships. Trust is in short supply in modern life. We have replaced trust with security systems and an atmosphere of constant vigilance, which saps our energies from more productive endeavors. When trust is low, we erect more barriers around us. Ironically, pursuing security in this way often causes us to lose our peace; even love becomes a challenge.

Trust can also be eroded in our relationship with God. All of us have felt abandoned or lost at some time. None of us have immunity from hurt and disappointment. Some keep wandering (and wondering) until they find their way again, keeping an openness to the possibility that God is working even through the hurts. Sometimes trust even grows from that journey, particularly as we experience unexpected goodness. But some decide to stop, erect barriers, and to draw their sustenance from what they think they can secure. They can only sense the hurt, and they do not want to go back there again. But not going back may also block the way forward.

All of us sometimes adopt the barrier approach, particularly with difficult relationships. And sometimes we get into a difficult patch in our spiritual life, which may cause us to wall ourselves off from the Church. In my own experience, that usually does not last long. I don’t have that much confidence in my own barriers! Moreover, those barriers are likely more effective at keeping out the healing medicine we need, rather than giving genuine protection.

The leper in today’s gospel did something interesting: After approaching Jesus, the leper first “did him homage” – presumably following customary behavior to show honor within his culture. The leper then said something astonishing: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” He obviously wanted to be extracted from the ostracism and pain associated with leprosy, but he seems to leave this outcome to the Lord's discretion. He does not seek to impose his will upon Jesus, but instead he seems to affirm Jesus’ authority and to honor His will above his own.

I find myself in awe of the leper’s trust in Jesus. When things don’t go well for me, I tend to ruminate and stew in my own hurts and needs. My interior motivation is not oriented toward doing homage, but instead to ask God why he has put me in such a state! And of course, I usually have a prescription to offer as well! But I am not the Great Physician. My prescription might even make me worse off. Following the leper’s example would be an improvement, indeed.

Let us pray for this kind of trust. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

“A sacrament--like marriage--means living a life better than your natural instincts, so that you're modeling God. And God never gives up.”

Couples have the grace of the married state — the grace they receive in the Sacrament of Marriage — which enables them to live all the human and Christian virtues in their married life: understanding, good humor, patience, forgiveness, refinement and consideration in their mutual relations. The important thing is not to give up the effort, not to give in to nerves, pride or personal fads or obsessions. In order to achieve this, husbands and wives must grow in interior life and learn from the Holy Family to live with refinement, for supernatural and at the same time human reasons, the virtues of a Christian home. I repeat again that the grace of God will not be lacking. - St Josemaria Escriva: (1902 – 1975: Opus Dei founder, which proclaimed a universal call to holiness for the Catholic laity in day to day living)

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.

In the last half of today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that hearing and acting on the word of God is like building a house on rock while hearing and not acting on his word is like building a house on sand. This can be applied to marriage. Marriage needs a strong foundation in faith and a willingness to act on that faith to survive all the storms that will inevitably come.

Belief in God and his support provides purpose and strength for the efforts required for a successful marriage. Finding God in one’s spouse provides the motive and ability to love them when he or she is not at their best and to put the spouse ahead of self. Trust in God’s unwavering love provides the ability to share and survive the pains and losses that come to every human family. Even marriages that are centered on God are not perfect because the spouses are not perfect, but they are more likely to weather the trials and pains that come their way.

The divorce data in our country is a reflection on the secularization that permeates our society. Marriages that lack a strong foundation as a result of not being centered on God are likely to be like the house built on sand, blown about with every gust of wind and unable to withstand storms.

Those with long, successful marriages centered on God can encourage younger couples by giving witness to the source of their success. We can all pray for successful marriages throughout the world which are centered on God with a firm foundation that can weather the storms of life for many, many years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

“Witnessing honesty frightens some people because they haven't known authenticity.”

“Maybe I was praying for him then, in my own way. Does God have a set way of prayer, a way that He expects each of us to follow? I doubt it. I believe some people-- lots of people-- pray through the witness of their lives, through the work they do, the friendships they have, the love they offer people and receive from people. Since when are words the only acceptable form of prayer?” ― Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980: The Catholic Church has opened the cause for Day's canonization and therefore refers to her with the title Servant of God)

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. With our knowledge about John, we could answer the question his contemporary was wondering about: «What will this child be?» (Lk 1:66).

Through baptism, we have all been chosen and sent to bear witness of the Lord. In an environment of indifference, St. John is a helping example to imitate; St. Augustine says: «Admire John as much as you can for, whom you admire is profitable to Christ. I insist, he is profitable to Christ, not because you offer anything to Him, but because of your being able to progress in Him». In John, his attitude as a Messenger, clearly explicit in attentive prayer to the Spirit, in his fortitude and humility, helps us to establish new horizons of sanctity for us and for our brother.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

“It was the thief's last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything.”

“What does this "narrow door" mean? Why do many not succeed in entering through it? Is it a way reserved for only a chosen few? No! The message of Christ is that «everyone may enter life, but the door is "narrow" for all. We are not privileged. The passage to eternal life is open to all, but it is "narrow" because it is demanding: it requires commitment, self-denial and the mortification of one's selfishness”. - Pope Benedict XVI (Served as Pope of the Catholic Church from 2005 until his resignation in 2013)

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.”

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount. He says the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” He speaks to them about how difficult it can be to follow the proper path “that leads to life,” by using the image of the “narrow gate” and the “constricted” road. Before this, however, He interprets Proverbs 23:9: “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.”

Last week tragedy touched the hearts of many people around the world due to the actions of Dylann Roof at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina here in the United States of America. Whatever the motivation of this misguided 21 year-old young man, it was another senseless act of violence. What has moved many people, however, has been the words of forgiveness spoken to the man accused of the crime by the families of those lost in the violence. While the families spoke haltingly and movingly about their grief, they also lived out their faith by speaking words of forgiveness!

We could say, “Why waste your words of forgiveness on such an animal as the one who perpetrated this crime? Did you not hear what Jesus said about casting pearls before swine?” It may be true that their words have no effect on the young man - at least at this point in his life. But I hope they can have some effect on the rest of us! In a society where faith is increasingly seen as irrelevant and forgiveness as mere idiocy, these loved ones of the victims have cast “pearls” before us. Can we recognize them for what they are? Can we reach out to each other and seek to build up the kingdom? May we not let these “pearls” slip through our fingers and continue on as we have done before! May we follow the example of our sisters and brothers at Emmanuel and show the world that it is better to go through the “narrow gate!”

Monday, June 22, 2015

“When we are judging everything, we are learning nothing.”

“Then you shall judge yourself," answered the king. "That is the most difficult thing of all. It is far more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then indeed you are very wise.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: (1900 – 1944: French writer & poet)

Gospel Text: (MT 7:1-5)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

“Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1). How many people today take that one verse from the Bible and apply it wrongly? They will tell others that no one can tell them that what they are doing is wrong, because that would be judging them. Then they throw out the verse where Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. And since we are all sinners, then that means that no one can tell anyone that what they are doing is sinful.

Judging the actions of a person as being sinful is NOT condemning a person and passing judgment. It would be wrong to say to a person, “You are an adulterer, and you are going to hell”. It would not be wrong to tell a person “You are committing adultery, and that is sinful. You need to repent of it, go to confession, and never do it again, because it breaks one of the Ten Commandments”. The former is passing judgment; the latter admonishes the sinner. Big difference. A judge passes sentence; discernment of people’s sinful actions does not. A good rule of thumb to follow is that we humans do all of the praying, and we let God do all of the judging of people. That in no way stops us from discerning that a person's actions are wrong and sinful.

The devil only has one commandment, “Do as you will”. So many people in the world today follow that demonic philosophy, and they really hate it when Christians bring up the fact that sin exists.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The problem is not whether God exists or is here with us or not. - The problem is that we live as if He didn't exist

“Dealing with adversity is like preparing for surgery. By putting our faith in what the doctor has said, we believe we will be better off if we have the surgery. But that does not make it any less painful. By submitting to the hand of a surgeon, we are saying that our ultimate goal is health, even at the cost of pain. Adversity is the same way. It is a means to an end. It is God's tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives.” - Charles Frazier Stanley: (Senior pastor of First Baptist Church in northern Atlanta, Georgia)

Gospel Text: (MK 4:35-41)
On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

Sometimes the sea of life is rough. The wind is strong. The waves are high. The boat is taking on water and sinking. We all know what that is like. Each of us could tell a storm story. Some of our stories will begin with a phone call, a doctor’s visit, or news we did not want to hear. Some of them will start with the choices we have made, our mistakes, and our sins. Other stories will tell about the difficulty of relationships, hopes and plans that fell apart, or the struggle to grow up and find our way. Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise. Other storms build and brew as we watch.

The disciples are quick to make the storm about Jesus. “Do you not care that we are perishing?” We’ve probably all echoed their words in the storms of our lives. “Do something. Fix it. Make it better.” In the midst of the storm Jesus seems absent, passive, uncaring. How can he sleep at a time like this? Sleeping Jesus is not what they or we want.

Sleeping Jesus, however, is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples. He is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, blown by the same wind, beaten by the same waves.  His response, however, is different. While disciples fret and worry he sleeps. The disciples want busyness and activity. Jesus sleeps in peace and stillness. His sleep reveals that the greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves, and water around us – the circumstances in which we find ourselves – but within us. The real storm, the more threatening storm is always the one that churns and rages within us.

Faith does not change the storm. It changes us. Faith does not take us around the storm but through the storm. Faith allows us to see and know that Jesus is there with us. Faith is what allows us to be still, to be peaceful, in the midst of the storm. It means we do not have to interiorize the storm.

The power of God is stronger than any wave that beats against us. The love of God is deeper than any water that threatens to drown us. In every storm Jesus is present and his response is always the same, “Peace! Be still!”

Friday, June 19, 2015

“Bravado may stir the crowd, but courage needs no audience.”

True humility consists in being content with all that God is pleased to ordain for us, believing ourselves unworthy to be called His servants. -- St. Teresa of Jesus (1515 – 1582: Spanish Carmelite nun & Doctor of the Church)

Scripture Text: (2 COR 11:18, 21-30)
Brothers and sisters:
Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.
To my shame I say that we were too weak!

But what anyone dares to boast of
(I am speaking in foolishness)
I also dare.
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they children of Israel? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ?
(I am talking like an insane person).
I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death.
Five times at the hands of the Jews
I received forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned,
three times I was shipwrecked,
I passed a night and a day on the deep;
on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race,
dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city,
dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea,
dangers among false brothers;
in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights,
through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings,
through cold and exposure.
And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me
of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

The Word of God for today’s Mass invites us to take a long look at our true self. St. Paul invites us to do this when he “boasts” about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

I learned about boasting in grade school. By the time I got to seventh grade, there were cliques that followed the social makeup of the city. There were the athletes who boasted about their accomplishments in sports. There were the nice-looking girls who were the popular ones of the school. There were the sons and daughters of the important people of the community, the children of the mayor, the doctors and business community. There were the smart ones, who “aced” every exam and were the “teacher’s pets.”

There was a lot of boasting going around when we were just “hanging out.” No one had to teach us how to boast. We also learned the competitive art of boasting: my accomplishment is better than your accomplishment. It was then that I discovered that life was never going to be simple. If you were going to get ahead in this world, you needed to learn how to boast.

The reason why the following of Jesus is counter cultural is because it is. David Brooks, a well-known columnist, wrote a book entitled, “The Road to Character.” In it, he talks about the men and women who have left their mark on civilization, and how they mastered the tendency to boast and thus discover where their heart was. They learned to value what was truly of value.

Our Scripture readings for today Mass helps us to take a serious look at our inner self. We are invited to learn the difference between boasting and our true self. We can love ourselves only because God first loved us. We love the other, the friend and the enemy, because God loves them as well. No matter how important we are, or how intelligent we are, or how well-off we are, we will someday come to realize that it is God who gives us our worth.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

“How often I failed in my duty to God, because I was not leaning on the strong pillar of prayer.”

“Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.” - St. Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582: Spanish Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church)

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

“This is how you are to pray:

‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’
“If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

We do not subscribe to a "Burger King" mentality when it comes to prayer: "Have it Your Way!" The goal of our prayer should not be to have it our way but rather to have it God's way!

I once knew a very pious woman who told me: " I pray for everyone else, but I never pray for myself." I told her, "That's wonderful that you pray for others (intercession) but don't be so high-minded that you fail to pray for yourself and your own needs as well."

Jesus commands it! So don't be afraid to ask!

I suspect that the woman mentioned above felt that there was something inherently selfish about asking the Lord for herself. But nothing could be further from the truth. This almost natural desire to plead on one's behalf before the Divine Majesty is born of two realities: (1) our absolute neediness as creatures and fallen creatures at that and (2) our filial trust in God the Father Almighty.

The Catechism tells us: "By prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who as Christians know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to him." (2629)

However, God is not a giant candy machine dispensing goodies to His children. God is our all-powerful and all-loving Father who already knows our needs and will grant us those goods (not goodies) which are conducive to our salvation.

Dominican Fathers Antonio Royo and Jordan Aumann break it down this way:

"It is an error to believe that if we persevere in prayer, come what may, we shall always obtain that which we seek. Some things will be granted to us absolutely; some things will never be granted to us no matter how earnestly and how long we pray for them; still others will be granted to us only [my emphasis] if we pray, because God has decreed that they will be given only on the condition that we ask for them [my emphasis]" (The Theology of Christian Perfection, p. 501).

"So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees" (Hebrews 12:12)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Plenty of people are willing to give God credit, yet few are willing to give Him cash.

“When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” ― St Basil (329 – 379: Influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church)

Scripture text: (2 COR 9:6-11)
Brothers and sisters, consider this:
whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.
As it is written:

He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.

The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

You are being enriched in every way for all generosity,
which through us produces thanksgiving to God.

Almsgiving must flow naturally from the heart of the Christian. It must be free of ego consciousness. It is like love and compassion jumping out of my heart into the heart of one in need.

I recently heard a story that illustrates what this teaching of the Scriptures is all about.

Many years ago, in the heyday of the circus, a father and his teenage son were standing in line to purchase their tickets to get in. One family was in line in front of them. There were eight children in the family, all below the age of twelve. By the way they were dressed you could tell they did not have a lot of money, but their clothes were neat and clean. The children were well-behaved, all of them standing in line, holding hands, two by two, excited as they could be about being at the circus.

The mother was standing next to her husband, holding his hand. She too was excited about being there. The father proudly requests tickets for each person. When given the total money needed, you could see a moment of panic go across his face. He counted his money and realized he did not have enough. The cost was more than he thought it would be.

The father of the teenage boy standing behind this family realized what was happening and in no time flat, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the twenty dollar bill he had, crumpled it up and threw it on the ground next to the father attempting to purchase tickets for his family. He then went forward and picked up the bill and handed it to the father of eight, telling him that he must have dropped the money when pulling something from his pocket.

The father of the large family reached out and shook his hand, taking the twenty dollars, saying, “Thank you, thank you sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.”

The father and his teenage son, without any money, got in their truck and drove home. They did not get to see the circus but they received a joy of heart that only the angels know. Can you imagine the lesson that father taught his son on how to give alms.

When we give – of self, of our time, of our treasure or talents – we acknowledge the gifts we have received. We are being grateful to God, who has been gracious and loving and giving to us, by not hoarding but by sharing our good fortune with others.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

“In life you will have enemies. - Make sure you are not one of them.”

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945: Anti-Nazi dissident and martyred in a concentration camp)

Gospel Text: (MT 5:43-48)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It’s a tall order to love one’s enemies. Some days I can barely say “hello” to my co-workers when I’m annoyed with them. But love my enemies?? Love the terrorist, the rapist, the killer, the abuser? Love the corporate plunderer, the arrogant politician, the lazy, the entitled, the insufferable, and the list goes on and on? It’s good in theory, but are we humans really built to let go of our fear, anger and hatred of the perceived “other” and simply stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, in love and humility before God?

Jesus tells us that the call to love - not mushy, sentimental, romantic love - but a love that is forged out of the guts of our own resistance is a call that reverses the very course of our human history, the history taking shape in space and time and the history unfolding daily within our own hearts.

I confess that there are times when I adore, like a false idol, my “righteous” anger at certain people and their actions or values. I feel entitled to it. I even enjoy it. Maybe it gives me the sense that I am actually doing something productive or it affirms my “superior” nature. But in the end, it is all a distraction, I think, from what I’m really supposed to be doing.

So if there has to be an enemy, let it be injustice. And if there really is an “other,” maybe it’s the stranger within us, the flawed heart just waiting to be healed by love for God, one’s self, and others.

Monday, June 15, 2015

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Believe me and you will forget the offences and insults you get from your fellow man. You will see how differently you will be named; he will be called angry and violent while you will be cited as meek and peaceful. One day, he will repent of his violence, but you will never regret your meekness». – St Basil (329 – 379: Influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church)

Gospel Text: (MT 5:38-42)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Today Jesus teaches us that forgiveness can overcome hate.

Truth should always accompany forgiveness. We do not just forgive because we feel helpless or gravely embarrassed. Quite often the expression “to turn the other cheek” is misinterpreted as waiving our legitimate rights, certainly nothing of the sort. To turn the other cheek means to denounce with a peaceful but categorical gesture. Whoever has committed the injustice; it is like saying to them: «You slapped me on the cheek, now what, you want to slap me on the other too? Do you really think you are behaving rightly?». Jesus replied serenely to the high priest's rude servant: «If I said something wrong testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?» (Jn 18:23).

Rather than ‘an eye for an eye,’ we need to take the high road and forgive. Instead of wanting to pay back those who hurt us, we should forgive and move forward. Jesus Christ emphasizes in today’s Gospel that only love can overcome violence and this is how He expressed it when, on his Cross, He interceded for his executioners: «Father, forgive them, they know not what they do» (Lk 23:34).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Little things? Who cares!? Apparently, God does!

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” – St Thérèse de Lisieux: (1873 – 1897: French Discalced Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church)

Gospel Text: (MK 4:26-34)
Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Most of us today have little in common with those farmers; yet these parables can powerfully resonate in our modern minds because we can still understand quite a lot about planting, watering and harvesting and somehow we sense through his words that God has planted something in our hearts that will not allow us to move completely away from him.

What is the Kingdom of God? It is «Jesus himself» as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us. And our soul «is the essential location of the Kingdom of God». God wants to live and grow inside us. If we seek God's wisdom and obey his commands our life will become as steady as a rock and acquire a power that we can barely imagine.

If we patiently correspond to his grace his divine life will definitely grow in our soul the way seed grows in the field or as the German Dominican Friar, Eckhart von Hochheim O.P has beautifully expressed: «The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer and a diligent field hand, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be the result of God. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God seed into God».

Friday, June 12, 2015

“The Heart of Jesus is an open Heart – Spend your time there – It is not an ordinary school”

The Sacred Heart of Christ is an inexhaustible fountain and its sole desire is to pour itself out into the hearts of the humble so as to free them and prepare them to lead lives according to his good pleasure. - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647 – 1690: French Roman Catholic nun and mystic)

Gospel text: (JN 19:31-37)
Since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one,
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken
and they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately blood and water flowed out.
An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true;
he knows that he is speaking the truth,
so that you also may come to believe.
For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled:
Not a bone of it will be broken.
And again another passage says:
They will look upon him whom they have pierced.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the symbol of the fidelity of the love of God. It reminds us that God loves us unconditionally with a love we cannot earn or ever be worthy of. And he loves us for ourselves, with all of the physical warts, psychological quirks and spiritual infidelities.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is most relevant today because not only is this the information-centered society, but it is also an age of anxiety, fear, insecurity and despair. Every year more than a million and a half Americans suffer heart attacks. Heart failure is the leading cause of death in America today. Heart failure is also the most avoidable cause of death because long before the patient is rushed to the emergency room trouble has been going on in the heart: in the fearful heart, the anxious heart, the discouraged heart, the lonely heart, the rejected heart, the angry heart and the sinful heart. The root cause of all of this heart trouble is the failure to know and trust the meek and humble Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

“Legalism says God will love us if we change. The gospel says God will change us because He loves us.”

Looking in newspapers or on television we see so many wars between Christians: how does this happen? Within the People of God, there are so many wars! How many wars of envy, of jealousy, are waged in neighborhoods, in the workplace! Even within the family itself, there are so many internal wars! We must ask the Lord to make us correctly understand the law of love. How beautiful it is to love one another as true brothers and sisters. How beautiful! Let’s do something today. – Pope Francis 6/12/13

Gospel Text: (MT 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother,
Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

I’ve never murdered anyone. Does that make me a good Christian? Not by Jesus’ standards. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents his teaching with the same divine authority as that by which God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. This undoubtedly would have astounded the scribes and Pharisees, who saw themselves as the arbiters of the Mosaic law. The scribes and Pharisees equated righteousness merely with satisfying the outward observance of the law. But Jesus called his disciples to go beyond that, beyond the letter of the law, into a deeper righteousness.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides examples of the righteous behavior necessary to enter the Kingdom. Does the law command us not to murder? Jesus says that isn’t good enough. Sin doesn’t just happen to us. It first grows as a tiny seed. Remove the attitudes and actions that lead to killing, and indeed, every obstacle to unconditional love, Jesus says. Are you angry with your brother or sister? Leave that sacrifice at the altar. Go and seek reconciliation first. At that moment, reconciliation trumps worship.

I suppose I could claim to be a good Christian by pointing to the fact that I’ve never committed murder. Indeed, most, if not all of us could make a similar claim. But then comes that pesky Sermon on the Mount where we learn that externals just don’t get us very far.

What then is the good news here? Just this: that we ought not to presume to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, unless the good news first penetrates our hearts and leads us to live according to God’s ultimate intention — obeying the commandments of love and forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

“No law made by man can override the norm written by the Creator without society becoming dramatically wounded in what constitutes its basic foundation."

“Every person has free choice. Free to obey or disobey the Natural Laws. Your choice determines the consequences. Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.”

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

The law Christ is talking about is the Ten Commandments. We need to keep in mind that the Commandments are based in natural law and will never be abolished thus transcending time.

Speaking personally, the commandments are not a set of negative rules, but a set of truths to live by. A few decades ago (yes I’m getting old); I made a commitment to my faith and began my walk with the Lord. Through that time I’ve found that when living by the commandments, my relationship with God and others just seemed to go better. Luckily for me Christ came to fulfill the law and I’m only here to do the best I can. Only with His grace and my response to that grace is it possible to live as Jesus asked us to. This is why I can not overstate the importance of the Sacraments (the Eucharist & Reconciliation), which elevate human nature and are channels of God’s grace. Jesus said that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you.”(Jn: 6:51) How does that translate? Simple, there is absolutely no way that you can live the life that Jesus asked us to live without God’s grace. Impossible!

A good analogy to illustrate this is the following. God’s grace is constantly “raining” down on us, but we sometime put up an “umbrella”. The “umbrella’ is our sins. What we need to do continually is go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (I recommend once a month). By doing this, we put away our “umbrella” and God’s grace like “rain” reaches our hearts when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation go together. If we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and do not go to Confession, God’s grace will not reach us. However, when we go to Confession with a priest frequently and receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament something amazing happens - We change. Believe it!

This my friends is the only way we can live as Jesus asked us to and in turn to follow his commandments because as Jesus himself said,” If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)