Saturday, April 30, 2016

If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits

Gospel Text: (JN 15:18-21)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,
because they do not know the one who sent me.”

There is no doubt; we are living in an age of growing persecution against Christians. Cardinal Dolan of New York recently addressed the Conference of US Bishops gathered in assembly. Cardinal Dolan told his brother bishops: We are living in what must be recognized as, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, "a new age of martyrs." One expert calculates that half of all Christian martyrs were killed in the twentieth century alone. The twenty-first century has already seen one million people killed around the world because of their belief in Jesus Christ - - one million already in this young century.

And the threat to religious believers is growing. The Pew Research Center reports that 75 percent of the world's population "lives in countries where governments, social groups, or individuals restrict people's ability to freely practice their faith." Pew lays out the details of this "rising tide of restrictions on religion," but we don't need a report to tell us something we sadly see on the news every day.

In our own lives, we will suffer, we will be misunderstood, betrayed by friends, shipwrecked (at least figuratively), and we will experience the instability that often accompanies the struggles of daily life. St Paul and many of the saints that have gone before us show us how to choose the better way, the way of discipleship. When we learn to make that choice we will find the path to contentment and the way of true freedom. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

God is love. God doesn’t choose certain people to love. God loves all of us. Unconditionally.

Gospel Text: (JN 15:12-17)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”

There are different types of love but there is no confusion in the language of the New Testament. When Jesus speaks about love it is always a special type of love, unselfish love, loving the other for the other’s sake without anything in it for oneself.

Of course there are difficult situations where it is very demanding to love our neighbor as ourselves and our neighbor may be a family member, someone who lives near us, or who works with us. These are a few little helpful hints to love our neighbor. Remember Jesus died for that person; imagine that person beneath Jesus dying on the cross. Imagine that person as an infant in the arms of Jesus.

We receive the grace of the sacraments to help us love our neighbor as ourselves when a priest celebrates the sacraments for us. We need priests to give us the sacraments. It is only with the grace of God that we love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. It is only by living every day with Jesus that we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Christian joy is a gift of God flowing from a good conscience."

Gospel Text: (JN 15:9-11)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that
my joy might be in you and
your joy might be complete.”

Jesus gives us the secret to a life of complete joy: obeying God's commands.  In Mt 22: 37 – 40, Jesus gives us the two greatest commandments: to "love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" . . .  and to "love your neighbor as yourself. The whole Law and the Prophets are founded on these two commandments."

This is the secret to happiness and yet many people do not heed the instruction.  Why are we unable to obey God's commandments?

In today's world where individual freedom is so important, obedience seems to be losing strength as a value. Human power has been so emphasized that at times we no longer see the need for God.  Plus in reality it is not that easy to follow God's commandments.

It is not easy to love God when we see and experience pain and suffering in life. We expect a God who provides for our needs, one who gives us good times and good things. How can we love a God who allows poverty and hunger, war and sickness, and so many calamities to come. Why?

It is also difficult to love others as ourselves because of our selfish nature and especially if the other seems unlovable, if the other does not love us and even hurts us.  How can a son respect a drunkard-father? A wife an unfaithful husband?  A friend who has cheated?

The Lord does not provide easy answers. He simply calls us to remain in his love and promises true joy. This is the obedience Jesus showed: despite pain, rejection and suffering, he remained faithful to what the Father wanted.

The obedience and love Jesus showed are beyond our ordinary logic.  With loving obedience, he believed all will be well. 

We are called to do the same.  Are we willing to forego logic and trust and remain in God's love?   

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

“The path of virtue is painful to nature when left to itself; but nature, assisted by grace, finds it easy and agreeable.”

Gospel Text: (JN 15:1-8)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Three thoughts jumped out at me when reading today’s gospel from Mass:

First, the words – “THE TRUE VINE”. Might we be connected to other vines in our lives -- even competing vines? Might other vines look to be TRUE? Yes. But, is there only one, true vine of which the Father is the grower? Is there only one true vine which is the most life-giving, the most nourishing, and the most dependable? Yes. Most importantly -- are we plugged into this one, true vine?

Second, “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
We all need pruning in life. Jesus provides an example of an action by which this pruning might occur -- the reception of The Word -- the reception of His Word. Scripture challenges us, nourishes us, encourages us, and advises us. Scripture prunes us by addressing the life-sucking downfalls that might hinder us from bearing good fruit -- or any fruit at all: Temptations, greed, selfishness, anger, grudges, apathy, hatred, or the avoidance of cross-carrying at any cost, to name a few. On the other hand, Scripture prunes us by helping us to channel all that is life-giving into our lives and actions: Selfless love, sacrifice, voluntary cross-carrying, feeding others, clothing others, visiting others, comforting others, serving others, forgiving others, healing others, reaching out to the marginalized, protecting defenseless life, and even giving up our lives for others.

Lastly third, “Remain in me, as I remain in you”
Do we try to be our own vines sometime? Yes. Sadly, we can deceive our selves and think we are independent of God and our dependence upon Jesus (the true vine) will begin to slip away until we feel lifeless. And, it is then that we search -- sometimes frantically -- for the true vine again hoping that we have not been permanently cut off and thrown in the pile of withered branches ready for burning.

If we find we are not plugged into Jesus, if we find our choices for fulfillment are limited, if we find those things that we are currently plugged into life-sucking or only minimally sustaining, let us make a conscious decision to find the TRUE vine and find TRUE nourishment, TRUE fulfillment, and TRUE peace and happiness.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.

Gospel Text: (JN 14:27-31A)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.
I will no longer speak much with you,
for the ruler of the world is coming.
He has no power over me,
but the world must know that I love the Father
and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”

In today’s gospel Jesus says: “My peace I give to you.” Notice the emphasis on “my peace.” By saying these words about peace, Jesus is teaching us that His peace is something different from other forms of peace. There is a difference between what we think of peace and the real peace that comes from Him. It is because we think of peace only as the absence of war.

The peace that Christ left his disciples was not “peace of mind”, “peace and quiet”, “to rest in peace” or “keeps the peace”.  No, it was much deeper.  For the peace Jesus gave his disciples and likewise to each of us was the peace that passes all understanding.  A peace that allows us to conquer all of our fears worries and anguish because we know that God’s love is with us always.  Peace, knowing that the hand of God is constantly on our shoulder; helping us, guiding us and supporting us whenever we feel the need to call upon him.  So in times of stress, tension and turmoil remember the great inheritance Christ left us through these powerful words, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.