Monday, August 31, 2015

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

People see God every day, they just don't recognize him. ~Pearl Bailey (1918 – 1990: An American actress and singer)
Gospel Text: (Lk 4:16-30)
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb,
‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’”
And he said,
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Here is the Son of God himself, standing right in front of them, talking to them. God comes to heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, shower peace and love to all people, share the message of Eternal Life, and these folk in today’s gospel from Mass were just too closed to see him at work in their lives.  In fact they were so angry, they were going to cast him away and throw him off a cliff!
God appears to us all the time, in every moment – always waiting to save, always knocking at the door of our hearts, begging to be let in – if only we would make room and let him in.  Look around… A pal or neighbor says a word that “hits home,” or some graffiti on the side of a truck that goes by, perhaps a tiny whispering sound, or someone you’ve only just met who seems to know exactly what you’re going through… Or maybe, just maybe even a 6 year old child tells you something that you simply can’t believe came out of a child’s mouth.
Who has been God to you?
How have you led Him to a cliff to be thrown over headlong?
How has God touched someone through you?
How are we going to open the door right now?
Because it’s true… For people with faith, who are open to the work of God in their life, there is never a goodbye… only a “see you later.”
So, friend, see you later.

Friday, August 28, 2015

“Conversion, constant conversion, is the message of the Gospel.”

Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.” ― St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153: French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian monastic order)

Scripture Text: (1 Thes 4:1-8)
Brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God–
and as you are conducting yourselves–
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This is the will of God, your holiness:
that you refrain from immorality,
that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself
in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion
as do the Gentiles who do not know God;
not to take advantage of or exploit a brother or sister in this matter,
for the Lord is an avenger in all these things,
as we told you before and solemnly affirmed.
For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.
Therefore, whoever disregards this,
disregards not a human being but God,
who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

St. Augustine is memorialized today in the Catholic tradition at Mass. Having initially led a dissolute life and subsequently converted, he is a fitting example of a person who finally heeds the signs and guidance that God will provide.  The reading above is an exhortation from Paul to the Thessalonians.  Many of the new converts there, it seems, were struggling with personal difficulties similar to those encountered by young Augustine.  Thessalonica was a port city with thousands of inhabitants. It was cosmopolitan and many of the people worshipped many Gods. The Jews, of course, also had a strong presence. Paul thought that his new converts may be threatened by some of the local pastimes and mores. He spelled this message out in particular with regard to finding a mate for life. Apparently lust had crept into (or stayed) in the equation. Paul, rather than being prudish, seems to be making a case for choosing a long-term relationship based on Christian principles.

A relationship based primarily on physical beauty or lust would fade, as does our youth. God, he reminded them, “did not call us to impurity, but to holiness.” If you ignore this, you ignore the wishes of God. 

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Monica and today we celebrate the feast of her son, St Augustine.  We know Monica kept her “lamps full” and relied on God to hear her lifelong prayers for her son’s conversion.  Again, this conversion all happened in God’s time.  St. Augustine led a licentious life and moved restlessly for a long time until his conversion.  His famous quote, ‘my heart is restless until it rests in you, my God’ reminds us to place our faith and trust in our God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to "die before you die" --- and find that there is no death.”

"Many people in this world do not want to think of death. My sons, keep in mind that whether we think of it or not, death is unavoidable." – St John Bosco (1815 – 1888: popularly known as Don Bosco, was an Italian Roman Catholic priest, educator and writer)

Gospel Text: (Mt 24:42-51)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.
But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Recently I took a walked in a New England cemetery, in the north east of the United States.  It dated back to the 1660’s.  Dusty, weedy pathways squirreled among over 2,000 graves.  Some headstones stood straight and tall.  Others slumped. More were scarred or fractured.  Others, no longer able to stand, were concealed in the overgrowth.

I found comfort in reading this old cemetery.  I awakened again to my mortality, my vulnerability and the fragility of life.  Each marker offered a glimpse into a life. Soldiers and sailors from all of our country’s military battles rest here. Young women who died in childbirth rest here.  Infants, children, even siblings, who died long before their parents, rest here. Seafarers lost at sea are remembered here. The young, the old, widows and widowers, the trusted and the shiftless rest here side by side. Nathaniel, a surviving twin who lived only days, rests near Phoebe who lived to be 97. Names, but no faces. There was no rhyme or reason, no recognizable pattern to the lives and deaths. It doesn’t take much to imagine the sorrows, joys and challenges buried here.

Did they ‘stay awake’?  ‘Ready’ the day the Lord came?  ‘Faithful and prudent servant(s)”? 

“Stay awake”. St. Matthew in today’s gospel passage does not paint a pretty picture of what it might be like not to be awake and prepared, prudent and faithful.

 “Stay awake” or else!  Or else what?  Or else, I may miss something beautiful, amazing, or unexpected.  I may not recognize Jesus who stands near me.  I may miss the Lord’s gentleness in the young mother taking her anxious child to the first day of school. Or the face of Compassion on the nurse caring for the dying man. Or Christ’s longing in the eyes of a homeless child. I may miss the Jesus of peace and justice in the dedicated, diligent arbitrator. I may miss the jovial Jesus in the wedding celebration. I may miss the every-day-God of love, laughter, friendship, joy, peace and comfort. I may miss hearing the Lord calling my name revealing Love and/or gently revealing my brokenness.  Now that I am awake, at least for the moment – I see, I hear the Lord’s work among us.  I experience God’s laboring in me!

As I paused among the headstones I am reminded of the love and the mercy of the Lord.

The good-news: The every-day-God dwells among us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Some nights are made for torture, or reflection

One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. ~G.K. Chesterton (1874 –1936: English writer, lay theologian, poet, & philosopher)

Gospel Text: (Mt 23:27-32)
Jesus said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You build the tombs of the prophets
and adorn the memorials of the righteous,
and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors,
we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’
Thus you bear witness against yourselves
that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets;
now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees and, at the same time, provides us with the opportunity to examine our own hearts. Jesus chastises the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites who appear beautiful and righteous on the outside, like “whitewashed tombs,” but whom on the inside are “full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.” He continues by noting their hypocrisy and evildoing.

As many know, the scribes and Pharisees were intensely religious in all outward appearances, but this failed to match with what was truly inside. In essence, they tended to be pure ritually, but impure in their hearts. As I relate this teaching to my own life, I strive to look for consonance between what I believe and feel in my heart and how I act with others. I truly do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus in my attempt to get closer to God. Among the many lessons we learned from Jesus, I appreciate his teachings about acceptance, tolerance, patience, and, of course, love. In examining my own life, I do my very best to determine whether my daily actions truly match what is in my heart and vice versa. And where there is dissonance then I, too, am acting like the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus took to task.

I know we all recognize the importance of self-reflection, but I can think of few ways where such reflection assists us in not only examining our daily lives in a deeper manner, but reflection allows us the opportunity to then change our actions and, more importantly, our hearts. And if we are truly open to and accept the words of God then from there only good things can come!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“A pure heart faces the worst kind of evil in this world. But as it sleeps it's blessed and it wakes up cleansed and a little bit stronger.”

Christ asks for a home in your soul, where he can be at rest with you, where he can talk easily to you, where you and he, alone together, can laugh and be silent and be delighted with one another. - CARYLL HOUSELANDER (1901 – 1954: A lay Roman Catholic writer and poet)

Gospel Text: (Mt 23:23-26)
Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

Ever wonder why there are so many gospel stories featuring the Pharisees in a role antagonistic to Jesus? The Pharisees were morally and religiously upright people, a reform party in Judaism concerned with restoring Jewish worship to its true roots. So why do the Gospels cast the Pharisees in such a negative light? 

Today’s gospel captures the essence of their mistake – neglecting the weightier things of the law – judgment and mercy and fidelity.  “Religiously observant” Christians are tempted to the same error. Observing the fine points of the regulations is not how we earn God’s favor. We already have that; rather these “fine points” are simply descriptions of how someone who is consumed by mercy and fidelity would typically behave.

In Mark’s version of this exchange (Mk 7:9), Jesus accuses the Pharisees this way: “How ingeniously you get around the commandments of God in order to observe your own tradition!”  Are we guilty of the same error? Have we ingeniously found ways to justify, for example, our disagreements about Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment?  (“Well, he’s not an economist, after all . . .).

Clearly today’s gospel invites us, “pious observant” Christians, to stand in the shoes of the Pharisees for a while.  Do they fit? Is Jesus’ criticism applicable to us? It’s worth thinking about – praying about.

Monday, August 24, 2015

“Keep your heart clear and transparent, and you will never be bound.”

"Be yourself -- not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be." -- Henry David Thoreau: (1817 – 1862: American author, poet, & philosopher)

Gospel Text: (Jn 1:45-51)
Philip found Nathanael and told him,
“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,
and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
But Nathanael said to him,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,
“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael answered him,
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this.”
And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

When Jesus looks at Nathaniel He sees a man who is transparent. A duplicitous or deceitful person presents himself as respectful and caring for another, but deep down is only using others for his own ends.
Many of us have an all too long a history of using people in a nice way.   Often there is lacking a genuine care for the welfare of the other, but with a very real care for our own self.  In today’s Gospel we find a man, Nathaniel, who is transparent. He can be unpleasantly honest. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But what you see is what you get!
The term “Transparency” is used a lot today in politics.  However, the claim of transparency is often the ultimate duplicity!    It is a deception by pretending to entertain one set of intentions while acting under the influence of another.  People are a great gift of God to us.  The name of Nathaniel literally means “gift from God”.  The gifts of God must be used but not just appropriated for our personal use.    They should bring us to serve Him, His people and not just ourselves.

Friday, August 21, 2015

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.”

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.”  - Ezra Taft Benson (August 4, 1899 – May 30, 1994: American farmer and religious leader)

Gospel Text: (Mt 22:34-40)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Today, a teacher of the law asks Jesus «Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law?» The Lord in response takes us to the depths of Christian catechesis, because «the whole Law and the Prophets are founded in the first two commandments» (Mt 22:40).

This could explain the classic commentary of the two wooden beams of the Lord's Cross: the upright beam stuck in the soil is the vertical, looking at heaven towards God. The crossbar represents the horizontal, the relations we have with our fellowmen.

The saints we know allow us to see how their love for God is expressed in many different ways when it comes to helping their fellowmen. Today, let us ask the Mother of God to fill us with the desire of surprising Our Lord with our deeds and words of affection. Thus, our hearts will open to those who live and work next to us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“We are free to choose our paths, but we can't choose the consequences that come with them.”

The sower may mistake and sow his peas crookedly: the peas make no mistake, but come up and show his line. - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882: American essayist, lecturer, and poet)

Gospel Text: (MT 22:1-14)
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables
saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In the Gospel, we recall one of the parables of Jesus. Not one of his gentle parables but one of his most violent ones. A King destroys those who violently refuse to accept his invitation to his son’s wedding. Then, he has his servants go out and invite to the wedding feast whoever they find. The wedding hall is filled with guests, the “bad and good alike.” However, the King has his servants evict a guest who has not come to the feast appropriately dressed. They are to “bind his hands and his feet, and cast him into the darkness outside.”

This story cautions us about taking our commitments to God too casually. The fate of the Kings’ reluctant wedding guests illustrates what can happen when we refuse to honor our relationship with God. Such an attitude leads to darkness, heartbreak and tragedy.

God gave his only Son so that we can have eternal life. As we ponder the various consequences of commitment, both God’s and our own, we pray that we can have the courage and perseverance to live out faithfully the commitments we’ve made to God and to one another.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

There is something perverse about more than enough. When we have more, it is never enough. It is always somewhere out there, just out of reach. The more we acquire, the more elusive enough becomes. –Unknown

Gospel text (Mt 20,1-16): Jesus said to his disciples, «This story throws light on the kingdom of heaven. A landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers a salary of a silver coin for the day, and sent them to his vineyard. He went out again at about nine in the morning, and seeing others idle in the square, he said to them: ‘You, too, go to my vineyard and I will pay you what is just’. So they went. The owner went out at midday and again at three in the afternoon, and he did the same. Finally he went out at the last working hour —it was the eleventh— and he saw others standing there. So he said to them: ‘Why do you stay idle the whole day?’ They answered: ‘Because no one has hired us’. The master said: ‘Go and work in my vineyard’.

»When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager: ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first’. Those who had come to work at the eleventh hour turned up and were given a denarius each (a silver coin). When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received a denarius each. So, on receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner. They said: ‘These last hardly worked an hour, yet you have treated them the same as us who have endured the day’s burden and heat’. The owner said to one of them: ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on a denarius a day? So take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Don't I have the right to do as I please with my money? Why are you envious when I am kind?’. So will it be: the last will be first, the first will be last».

God loves us all, and God gives all His love, all of it, to every person without exception who opens himself to it. He gives it to those who may have been born and raised Christians and lived out their faith loyally to the end, and to those who may have been great sinners right up to the end, but at the very end turn to God for forgiveness. It does not matter whether turning to the salvific love of God happens early or late. God’s love can never be earned, only accepted. In the Parable, the fact that the latecomers were only employed at the last hour does not reduce the Master of the vineyard to measuring out his wages hour by material hour. Similarly, God will not limit His love to mathematical segments of a time-earned wage.

God’s justice is measured by His own desire that everyone receive the fullness of His love. There are not various degrees of that love. It is always 100 percent. God is Love; he cannot not love and he cannot not love totally. He cannot and will not give more of that love to one than another.

God’s way of loving is what we are called to emulate. We are given the grace to love one another without reservation, without being stingy. We are called to love in ways echoed in the prayer for generosity penned by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In terms echoing the truth of today’s gospel parable, that prayer might be paraphrased this way:

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous with my love -- to love without reservation. Teach me to serve you by loving the others you place in my life as you love me. Teach me to give this love and not to count the cost of it. To fight for love in our world with all its enmity, hurt, and need for reconciliation. To toil for the Lord’s Kingdom of love, and not to seek for rest, to labor for it and not to seek reward, or any sort of wage! The only thing I ask is the grace to accept your love for me and the wisdom to know that in loving others, I am doing the Will of Our Father, as you did throughout your life and in the end, as you did it so utterly and generously from the Cross.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

You must be careful: don’t let your professional success or failure — which will certainly come — make you forget, even for a moment, what the true aim of your work is: the glory of God!

“Be very careful not to allow partialities to spoil the beautiful work of love God has entrusted to us — giving in to likes and dislikes, treating differently people of different caste or creed. This could easily happen if we do not pray the work, doing it with Jesus, to Jesus and for Jesus. Only then the aim of our apostolate will be “to reveal and to communicate God’s life to all men” of whatever race, caste or creed. Also if you allow this partiality attitude to affect your dealings with the poor, it will also show itself in your dealings with your sisters in community and be a cause of much disunity.” – Mother Teresa

Gospel Text: (MT 19:23-30)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich
to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Again I say to you,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said,
“Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men this is impossible,
but for God all things are possible.”
Then Peter said to him in reply,
“We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

I am sure preachers within every Christian tradition agonize over this text, trying to reconcile wealth and riches with discipleship. I don’t intend to go into that debate here. I think it is sufficient to say that Jesus saw the need to reach out beyond one’s needs and desires in order to adopt the right disposition if one wished to strive for the Kingdom of God and thus enter into it.

But Peter also names another dynamic that often puzzles people too. He speaks of the ‘recognition’ or ‘reward’ that a good disciple might desire or expect. Although the disciple may set out with an open heart, generous and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom, he or she is only human. Thus the need for recognition, even reward can surface and at times hold one’s attention powerfully.

The danger at that moment, much like that of the great heroes in various myths, much like the pursuit of riches, is that the desire for recognition can lead one away from the mission. One begins to seek reward rather than the growth of the Kingdom.

Jesus speaks to this very feeling and longing. He affirms that it is true that if one is to live one’s marriage, relationships, single life or life as a religious or minster – for the sake of the kingdom – then this may mean the loss of many things in order to generously give one energy, love and service to others.

But Jesus does suggest too that so often in life generosity and self-sacrifice are returned to the one who gives. We have all experienced this I am sure – love begets love, generosity begets generosity and we find that what we give is so often returned in excess to us. Perhaps in different ways, perhaps not even in a manner that is obvious at the time, but we do receive. It may be in the form of thanks, it may be that we see someone else freed, it may be that we rejoice in the accomplishment and goodness of another enabled to be like this because of our efforts – whatever we can take great satisfaction in these moments. So often too we discover reward in another powerful way – when one steps out towards the other be it child, friend, or stranger seeking to help them only to discover that we are the one being helped, inspired or carried by them or their example.

So a lesson for us today may well be that if we set out to make our lives a ‘continual service’ to those we love and to those who need us, then although it is not our goal or aim, we will receive back in return. Jesus saw this and experienced it himself, and he passes on his experience to us, that people respond to the good, that people are guided by and attracted to the light of kindness and compassion, and that when we love others unselfishly they will be inspired, enabled or moved to return such love. Love given freely may rebound to us, or it may radiate out and make the lives of still others better, but we will receive back gifts.

Monday, August 17, 2015

“Apart from the Holy Spirit we can never be freed from the chains of selfishness, jealousy, and indifference.”

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” ― Herman Melville: (1819 – 1891: American novelist)

Gospel Text: (MT 19:16-22)
A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

The young man in today’s Gospel Reading knows that something more is needed. He’s very confident that he has observed the commandments, but knows that he still lacks something for the gaining of eternal life. Jesus’ response aims for Heaven: “to be perfect”, the young man must sell what he has in order to give to the poor, and then he must follow Jesus.

It would not be accurate to take today’s passage as a proof that every Christian must abandon all his or her possessions. Jesus was speaking on this occasion to an individual. Individual members of the Body of Christ have different vocations, and are called in different ways.

What every Christian vocation does have in common with every other is to seek “to be perfect”. In fact, Jesus commands us elsewhere to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. That might seem an impossibly lofty goal, were we not to understand the meaning of the word “perfect”. From the Latin, it could be colloquially translated as “to become what one is”, or in other words, “to become what one is meant to be”. God “designed” each human person, and calls each human person, to spend himself in love for others, and above all, for Himself as the ineffable Other. However God may ask you to accomplish this, give thanks for His call.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Marriage is difficult… Of course it is difficult! That is why we need the grace, the grace that comes from the sacrament!

I think the world today is upside down. Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world. – Mother Teresa

Gospel Text: (MT 19:3-12)
Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Today, Jesus responds to his contemporaries’ questions about the true meaning of marriage by underlining its indissolubility.

His answer, however, also provides the adequate foundation for Christians to respond to those whose stubborn hearts have made them seek to extend the definition of marriage to homosexual couples.

In taking marriage back to God's original plan, Jesus underlines four things relevant to why only one man and one woman can be joined in marriage:

1) «In the beginning, the Creator made them male and female» (Mt 19:4). Jesus teaches that there is great meaning to our masculinity and femininity in God's plan. To ignore it is to ignore who we are.

2) «Man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife» (Mt 19:5). God's plan is not that a man leave his parents and cling to whomever he wishes, but to a wife.

3) «The two shall become one body» (Mt 19:5). This bodily union goes beyond the short-lived physical union that occurs in the act of making love. It points toward the lasting union that happens when man and woman, through making love, actually procreate a child who is the union of their bodies. It is obvious that man and man, and woman and woman, cannot become one body in this way.

4) «Let no one separate what God has joined» (Mt 19:6). God himself has joined man and woman in marriage and whenever we try to divide what he has joined, we do so at our own and all of society's expense.

In his catechesis on Genesis, Pope John Paul II said: «In his answer to the Pharisees, Christ put forward to his interlocutors the Total vision of man, without which no adequate answer can be given to questions connected with marriage». Each of us is called to be the “echo” of this Word of God in our own day.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

“Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted”

"He passed over his fall, and appointed him first of the Apostles; wherefore He said: ' 'Simon, Simon,' etc. (in Ps. cxxix. 2). God allowed him to fall, because He meant to make him ruler over the whole world, that, remembering his own fall, he might forgive those who should slip in the future. And that what I have said is no guess, listen to Christ Himself saying: 'Simon, Simon, etc.'" --Saint John Chrysostom: (349 – 407: Archbishop of Constantinople who was known for his preaching and public speaking)

Gospel Text: (MT 18:21–19:1)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.

One of the most difficult challenges in life is forgiveness. In fact, I might argue that unforgiveness is the cause of so much pain in our world, in our towns, in our families and in our hearts. We can be in such bondage to our hurts that we fail to see exactly how toxic they really are as we go along our days.

Peter approaches Jesus with a very generous offer. It appears to go to the widest boundaries of the time—finite, and Jesus responds with not seven times but seventy-seven times—infinite.

This servant owes so much to his master and as he begs for mercy by promising to repay, the reader understands the absolute impossibility of this. He is totally at the mercy of his master for his life and that of his family. Yet, we read that in an instant, he is forgiven—done, forgotten, free. It is that simple with God—mercy flows freely to those who ask. Following this encounter, it is so easy to judge this servant’s behavior as deplorable in the context of the mercy extended to him. Is he that disconnected from the encounter to completely forget to be merciful to others? Are we?

Father Eamon Tobin in his book, “How to Forgive Yourself and Others”, states that forgiveness is largely an act of the will and not a matter of feelings. This makes sense in line with Jesus’ words on forgiving from the heart. Father Tobin goes on to explain that forgiveness:

• is a process where we seek to rid our mind and heart from hurt and resentments because of what someone did to us;

• it is spiritual surgery that we perform on ourselves with God’s grace so as to free ourselves from the venom we feel;

• is a gift we give ourselves so we do not remain stuck in the past and in our pain. When we are able to forgive, we can move from being a victim.

Forgiveness is not a surrender to our right to justice; we do not necessarily want to forget—some hurts teach us. It also doesn’t mean that we never have negative feelings towards our offender. Forgiveness is a decision, like love, an act of will!

The only response to the kind of mercy shown the servant by the master is to receive it so as to be open to bring that same mercy to others. We are asked to move beyond vengeance and move towards reconciliation in humble willingness. We never fully experience one without the other; God’s mercy towards us as we go and do the same from the heart. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

May we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges.

'To the extent that you pray with all your soul for the person who slanders you, God will make the truth known to those who have been scandalized by the slander.'--St. Maximos the Confessor: (580 – 662: Christian monk, theologian, and scholar)

Gospel Text: (MT 18:15-20)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

Jesus, in today’s Gospel Reading, explains how His followers can keep from having moral punishment fall upon them. Jesus preaches that His followers must seek reconciliation with each other. He also calls upon us to point out a wrong that may have been committed, especially one which destroys harmony and peace. Correcting others in this way is a very hazardous duty: like almost no other responsibility that we have as Christians, it calls for the virtues of prudence, courage, and meekness. Who can manage this without the help of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus also urges us to pray together. Individual prayer is indispensable, and Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel commands us to go to our rooms and pray in private: but that’s not the limit of our prayer. Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, He is there in their midst. But we also know that where two or three are gathered for the Mass, Jesus is not only there in our midst, but becomes present in a way that we can receive Him: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"To be pure, to remain pure, can only come at a price. This price is knowing God and loving Him enough to do His will. - He will always give us the strength we need.”

"Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Mother are not simply the best way, but in fact the only way to keep purity. At the age of 20, nothing but communion can keep one's heart pure. Chastity is not possible without the Eucharist." – St Philip Neri: (1515 – 1595: An Italian Priest noted for founding a society of secular clergy called the Congregation of the Oratory)

Gospel Text: (MT 18:1-5, 10, 12-14)
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the home of a wonderful young couple celebrating their thirteenth wedding anniversary. When the priest spoke to the littlest children sitting around the living room altar about Jesus being the bread of life and how wonderful it is to be able to (one day) receive him in Holy Communion, there was not the least look of doubt or skepticism on their innocent, accepting, and eager faces. The little ones could believe in this great mystery of our faith in ways that we who are older and “more mature” could ever do!

Could this be what Jesus means when he says that we must be like little children? Does he mean that somehow we must regain a simpler acceptance of the mystery of our faith? I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to see such acceptance on the faces of the little children. Now the question is, how do we get that back? How do we become like the little children once again?

Monday, August 10, 2015

“Money can buy anything, but it cannot bribe death.”

“Don’t fancy that your age can make you look forward to a long life. It is too uncertain, my dear boys. Rather, it is quite certain that someday you shall die and that a bad death brings eternal misery. Therefore, be more concerned with keeping yourselves in the state of grace in order to meet death than with anything else” – St. John Bosco: (1815 – 1888: Italian Roman Catholic priest that founded the Salesians)

Gospel Text: (JN 12:24-26)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

Jesus teaches that when the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it produces fruit. We often interpret that as dying to our false selves in this life. However, it also applies to the way we die, a topic we are not good at facing in our society. One application isassisted suicide and euthanasia. This topic is too complex to explore deeply in a couple of paragraphs, yet we can look at general principles to better understand what is in the news and how it might fit with Jesus’ words.

By means of definition, assisted suicide occurs when an “assistant” provides the means for ill or suffering persons to take their own lives (lethal medications, gun/ammunition, carbon monoxide hood, etc.) but the assistant does not participate in the act. Euthanasia occurs when someone actively participates (or acts alone) to take the life of persons who are ill or suffering, sometimes with permission or even at their request. The Catholic Church condemns both, proclaiming that we need to alleviate end-of-life suffering by utilizing effective pain relief, employing hospice and palliative medications early in the process, and ensuring every patient has proper, compassionate care, rather than ending the suffering by killing the patient. Death should rightly occur because of disease, illness, or injury, not human actions.

Yet the Church also clearly teaches that this does not mean we are morally bound to use every means known to humankind to keep our bodies alive until our bodies simply can’t take it anymore. Life is not the ultimate good. God created us as finite beings and death is a normal, natural, expected occurrence. We are not supposed to be here forever, and God has something better in store. At some point, it is time to let go of life, die, and go home.

Recognizing this fact, in document after document the Church calls for “acceptance in the face of death”, and weighing the potential burdens and costs of treatment against the potential benefits it could offer. It is morally and ethically OK to stop or refuse treatments that only serve to prolong dying or that cause increased pain and suffering in the dying process. For instance, a patient experiencing a recurrence of aggressive cancer can morally and ethically refuse a last-ditch round of harsh chemotherapy, believing it would prolong the dying process complete with painful, debilitating side effects, and instead choose to maximize the quality of whatever life remains. This is not assisted suicide nor euthanasia. Death occurs naturally, caused by the underlying disease or illness, and the patient is free to more fully enjoy their final days on earth, hopefully surrounded by supportive family and friends.

Jesus says “Whoever loves his life will lose it.” We are called to cling to nothing, not even life itself. If instead of viewing death as the ultimate evil, as something that must be fought with every ounce of strength until the last moment, perhaps we can get better at accepting death with faith, dignity, and grace. Perhaps we can better utilize the benefits of hospice and palliative care for weeks or months instead of hours or days before death, enabling us to be more present to loved ones as we die. Perhaps we can then achieve the goals we long for – whether reconciling with someone, tying up loose ends, or having time to properly say goodbye. Perhaps by the way we die, we can be a visible sign to the world that we are part of something bigger, that this life is not the ultimate good, and that we can sink into the river of God’s peace and love as we take our last breath. The issues are not so simple, yet we can do a much better job of valuing life even as it ends. And what a witness that could be!

Friday, August 7, 2015

“You can sacrifice and not love. But you cannot love and not sacrifice.”

“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” ― St Francis of Assisi: (1181 – 1226: Roman Catholic friar)

Gospel Text: (MT 16:24-28)
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

Today, the Gospel clearly confronts us with the world... It is absolutely radical in its approach, and it does not admit any half measures: «If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me» (Mt 16:24). In many instances, when we are facing the suffering generated by us or by others, we may hear some people say, “ Keep on gathering sacrifices in very much the same way as those trading stamps we used to collect, with the hope of showing them at Heaven's audit department when our day to present our statements of accounts arrives.”

But our suffering per se would be of little value if we think like that. Christ was no stoic: He was thirsty, He was hungry, He was tired, He did not like to be forsaken. He let others help him... Where He could, He soothed pain, whether physical or moral. So, what is happening, then?

Simple. Before loading up with our “cross”, the first thing we must do is to follow Christ. It is not a matter of first suffering and then following Christ... Christ must be followed from our Love, and from there we can then understand the sacrifice, the personal negation: «For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it» (Mt 16:25). Love and mercy may lead us to sacrifice. Any true love engenders, one way or other, some sort of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice engenders love. God is not sacrifice; God is love, and only from that perspective does pain, fatigue and the cross in our existence have any meaning, following the model of man the Father reveals us in Christ. St. Augustine sentenced: «When one loves, one does not suffer; but if one does suffer, the very suffering is loved».

In the ensuing events of our life, we should not seek a divine origin to explain our sacrifices and shortcomings: «Why is God sending this to me?», but we rather have to find a “divine usage” for them: «How can I transform this into an act of faith and love?». It is from this evaluation how we are to follow Christ and how —certainly— we may deserve the Father’s merciful glance. The same glance, which the Father looked at his Son on the Cross with.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

“Night never had the last word. The dawn is always invincible.”

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained in sudden flight but, they while their companions slept, they were toiling upwards in the night.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: (1807 – 1882: American poet and educator)

Gospel Text: (MK 9:2-10)
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John,
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.

Who do people say I am?” After being pressed, St Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” Before they could triumph in their close relationship with this “Messiah” and what glory that would bring them, Jesus reveals the future: suffering, rejection and death. This was such a terrible shock to the apostles; they couldn’t accept it. Peter cries out, “This cannot happen to you!” Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan.”

It is in this depressing situation of misunderstanding and disillusionment that the Transfiguration takes place, six days later. On the mountain Jesus is suddenly transformed. Moses and Elijah appear to be talking with Jesus. The message is clear: Moses and Elijah fully endorse what Jesus is doing and saying and the future he has foretold about his suffering and death. Then a cloud appears and covers them. This was not simply a change in the weather. For a Jewish person, it represented the presence of Yahweh. A voice from the cloud declares: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” A supreme endorsement of the Son by his Father. Yes, listen to him even when he says things that you don’t like, things that you do not yet understand.

This special moment of encouragement will help the apostles through the difficult days ahead, though they will not fully understand until after the Resurrection and the experience of Pentecost, when they will boldly proclaim the Cross and not hesitate to carry daily their own cross.

May the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ be an encouragement to us to faithfully continue our journey, even when we don’t understand all that God is doing in our lives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Faith is not a privilege of a few, nor is it the property of those who think they are so good

“I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much.”--Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel Text: (MT 15: 21-28)
At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Do you ever have those days (weeks? months? years?) when it seems nothing goes your way? Personally, I find it all too easy when this happens to assume I have somehow offended or opposed God. Both the Old and New Testament readings today from Mass speak of people opposing God’s decrees.

In the Gospel, it is one Canaanite woman who sets herself in opposition to God, in the form of Christ Jesus. Here, the opposition is of a different sort. She does not refuse to follow God’s direction; she simply refuses to believe He will not help her. Note that when the disciples ask Jesus to send her away, He doesn’t. He engages her in conversation. Perhaps He was testing her faith. Perhaps He was speaking out loud what the disciples were thinking in order to turn it on its head as a lesson for them. In any case, she persisted and was rewarded. Her faith in the goodness of God helped her move through the opposition and secure the healing of her daughter.

This reading gives me hope for when I feel opposed or challenged. I can ask myself, is my faith in God’s goodness being tested? God challenges us in our lives – sometimes to purify us for the work ahead; sometimes to test our faith. In the end, however, if we allow Him, He will use our challenges to bring us closer to Him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

“Faith makes things possible, not easy.”

I will go peaceably and firmly to the Catholic Church: for if Faith is so important to our salvation, I will seek it where true Faith first began, seek it among those who received it from God Himself. ~St. Elizabeth Ann Seton S.C., (1774 – 1821: The first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized)

Gospel Text: (MT 14:22-36)
Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret.
When the men of that place recognized him,
they sent word to all the surrounding country.
People brought to him all those who were sick
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak,
and as many as touched it were healed.

Two things jump out at me in particular after reading the above passage: the invitation and the rescue. First, Jesus does invite Peter to do something really amazing, and I think we are invited to do extraordinary things, too. Through the Incarnation and his life on earth, Jesus showed us what humans are meant to be. We are meant to be loving, forgiving, compassionate, and merciful. We are meant to question and challenge figures of authority who seem to have forgotten that leadership means service to others, not protection of privilege and influence at all costs. Finally, we are meant to remain faithful to our deepest convictions and our central identity as beings created in the image and likeness of God. This might seem daunting, but I doubt most of us see it as miraculous. Human history and today’s news, though, are rife with stories of war, murder, deceit, and the worship of wealth and power. So when you look at that long tale, the humanity that Jesus invites us into really is extraordinary.

Second, there is the rescue. As I already mentioned, living in the way we are meant to live looks pretty daunting when we consider some aspects of the social and political reality in which we are trying to live, as well as the human jealousies, selfishness, and pettiness that each and every one of us is all too familiar with. So, we can probably count on failing or falling short with quite a bit of regularity. But God reaches out to us, like Jesus reaching out to Peter. Our focus on living the life that Jesus has revealed to us sometimes falters, but if we are open to and strive for that life, we won’t be allowed to drown. God doesn’t write us off every time we fail to live up to our deepest identity, thank goodness! Instead, God continually invites and reaches out to us when we need it, pulling us at our core and pushing us to be who God desires us to be.

If I examine my everyday experiences, where have I failed to live in a Christ-like way? Where and how do I feel continually called and pulled to change my ways? What do I need to do in my life in order to be open to and recognize when God is reaching out to me? Maybe it’s more regular prayer and reflection, journaling about daily experiences, or conversation with a family member, friend, or spiritual advisor. These can be some intentional avenues for us to watch for God’s hand reaching out to pull us up as we are continually invited to live in an extraordinary way.

Monday, August 3, 2015

“Men will trust in God no further than they know Him”

“The true Christian can nurture a trustful optimism, because he is certain of not walking alone. In sending us Jesus, the eternal Son made man, God has drawn near to each of us. In Christ he has become our traveling companion.” ― Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005: Declared a saint by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014)

Gospel Text: (Matthew 14:13-21)
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me,”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over–
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.

In today's gospel reading Jesus tries to take some time for Himself to mourn the death of John, a close relative and a good man who took his faith quite seriously; maybe Jesus even foresaw in John's death His own destiny. When the crowds flock to Him and He sees their need, however, Jesus sets His own needs and desires aside and ministers to them, body and soul.

The disciples care about the crowds in their own way, as they have begun to learn that other-centeredness which is so much a part of Jesus' teaching. They are not aware that they can do more, but they turn to Jesus in their need --- and He tells to them to feed the crowd themselves. They do not see what He is getting at, but Jesus takes what they think is only a little and blesses it. Putting that back into their hands, they suddenly have enough to take care of the people as they wish to, but only because they gave Jesus what they had and He blessed that tiny amount of bread and fish.

We ourselves wish to care for others, but we also believe that we do not have enough to do the great things that our hearts dream of. But do we turn our gifts over to Jesus, along with our hopes and dreams, and let Him bless them? Do we then trust that we too have enough to perform miracles of love?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

“We are constantly tempted to reduce the Eucharist to our own dimensions, while in reality it is we who must open ourselves up to the dimensions of the Mystery.”

Christ gives us his Body in the Eucharist, he gives himself in his Body and thus makes us his Body, he unites us with his Risen Body. If man eats ordinary bread, in the digestive process this bread becomes part of his body, transformed into a substance of human life. But in holy Communion the inverse process is brought about. Christ, the Lord, assimilates us into himself, introducing us into his glorious Body, and thus we all become his Body. - Pope Benedict XVI (General Audience on December 10, 2008)

Gospel Text: (JN 6:24-35)
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.”
So they said to him,
“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 him,
“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.”

Moses told them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”  (Exodus 16:15)

The wise remind us:  money and wealth do not bring happiness.  Some days we listen and know this to be true.  Then our true treasure shines brighter than gold and we see in new light.

How can we leave behind the familiar and survive the trek into the unknown? 

Scripture says that our true treasure comes from above.  We seek it but do not earn it.  Our greatness lies in welcoming the gifts of faith, family, friends, work, and world.  Like the morning dew, a new self is given, not picked off a rack.