Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faith. . .Not Fear

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."  (Matt 17: 20)

How often do you do things on a daily basis that have their motivation anchored in fear?  More than you probably know if you're like me! 

So many times we proclaim our faith in God as being rock solid, immovable.  We are very certain of ourselves at these times.  We are like Peter at the Last Supper who proclaimed to Jesus that he would never leave the side of his Master even if it meant that he should die doing so.  Yet, a few hours later, Peter denied knowing Jesus not once, but three times!  And this was one of the closest friends Jesus had. 

If we truly had a strong faith in Jesus, if it runs deep as we claim, then why is it that we fail so often and in so many ways to follow the Will of the Father?

Over the centuries and to this very day, there have been, and are, some very well meaning people who have attempted to coerce mankind into following God's will through harsh threats and promises of eternal damnation if we fail to do so.  They have painted God as an angry God with an axe to grind.  According to them, He waits for the very moment that we step out of line (sin) to condemn us.  There is no room for the mercy of God according to them.  As a result, many begin to follow the Will of God not out of love for Him but out of fear for their very eternal salvation.

If our lives are dictated by fear, then we have, in that moment, lost our way and our faith.  Jesus often told us not to be afraid.  He knew the human heart was fragile and prone to fear.  He understood that most people are not naturally courageous and give in from time to time to fear.  By telling us not to be afraid, He was actually telling us to live in faith which is founded in love.  We must detach ourselves from the secular world as much as possible because that world is dominated by fear.

When we allow fear to rule our days, we also allow our emotions to override our life.  With our emotions in charge, we are more susceptible to losing proper perspective.  The world becomes a frightening place from which we cower.  We often lose our ability to trust, striking out in anger, often at those who mean the most to us.  Through these actions, we begin to lose our precious connection with God Himself. 

God cannot exist in an atmosphere of fear.  His love is a love that basks in the certainty of faith despite what the moment may be saying.  Hell is a place of fear, hence, God cannot be anywhere near that place of eternal isolation and fear.  Fear, in short, eliminates the ability to love.

God is not found in fear.  He is, in fact, if we allow Him, our refuge from fear.  He often comes to us quietly even silently in the depths of our heart through nothing more than faith alone.  This can happen to us anywhere and at any time.  He can come to us in public settings as well as in the privacy and tranquility of our hearts.  Often, during times of intense interior storms, our faith grows because it is in these moments when we understand our total reliance on the Father.  We may be afraid in those moments, but instead of acting out of fear, we choose to act in faith, trusting the Creator of us all to see us through. 

Satan's territory is fear.  He operates and comes to us in moments of fear.  It is in these moments that we are often tempted the most.  He tempts from the weakness that is fear.  He causes insecurity to grow inside us until we can stand it no longer and, rather than turning to God in faith, we succumb to the temptation, often lashing out at the world around us and God as well.  In moments of temptation, if we act upon faith, we become stronger, more secure in ourselves and in our relationship with God. 

It is only through God that we can come to feel the true security that faith fosters.  For most of us, our faith proves to be a mystery.  So often, it seems to us that we have a strong faith.  Most people when asked if they have a strong faith will answer that they most certainly do.  However, in those weak moments when Satan is actively tempting us, we sadly often fall into the temptation and the accompanying sin.  When something happens to us to make us afraid, we become weak and feel incapable of going on.  This is fear.  Faith, on the other hand, gives us strength and the confidence that this too shall pass because God will be with us to weather any storm that may come along. 

Why is it that human nature tends to lend itself into giving in to Satan's temptations?  Lack of faith!  Satan is blatant in his approach, appearing often to be in the guise of something completely innocent, so much so that we do not recognize it.  With eyes of faith, firmly fixed on God, we will see through Satan's ways. 

"In love, there is no room for fear."  (1 Jn 4: 18)  The Apostle John knew full well that faith and fear or love and fear cannot coexist.  He witnessed Peter's denial of Jesus and saw what happened to Judas when Judas responded out of fear to his sin of betrayal.  He also saw and understood that faith fosters mercy as was revealed on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus forgave Peter for his sin.  Fear blots out the chance for love to develop.  Certainly, we all are afraid of something all throughout our lives.  It is part of the human condition.  But responding in faith will keep us from sinking into a mode of living in fear.  When we choose to live in fear, we choose to live without the graces of God and in the process, deny ourselves His strength and courage.

It is difficult to live in faith when we exist in a world ruled by fear.  By through our faith in Jesus Christ, we can come to live in faith and experience the peace of God in very real ways.  We will be better able to see past the weaknesses of others and, instead of dwelling on their shortcomings, we will see them more as God sees them.  We will extend ourselves in love to those in need more readily, avoiding the temptation to distrust any stranger in need as a panhandler out to get something for nothing. 

Faith will not eliminate fear from our lives.  To the contrary, it may seem like we're living in an even more fearful environment.  But faith will give us the grace to carry on in God's ways.  In the upcoming New Year of 2011, try faith a little more.  Give God a chance to act in your lives in moments of fear and allow this year to be the year of Faith!   Not fear! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

That's What the Season Is All About

Over the last several days I have heard media types as well as many others say, "That's what the season is all about," when referring to giving that goes on at this time of the year.  And they are right.  At least partly.

Christmas is the season of giving and unfortunately it seems it is the only time that most people are in the giving mood at the same time.  There is a certain excitement to this time of the calendar when everyone scurries about buying gifts for friends and loved ones and seeking just the right decoration to add the perfect touch to the home.  More often at this time of the year, friends and family get together just because.  There is really no reason except to enjoy one another's company.  While we do tend to do that in the summer months as well, there is a warmth to gatherings at this season that seems to be missing in the middle of the year.  Yet, this really isn't what the season is all about.

We witness various social and religious organizations kick into high gear gathering in gifts for those in society who have little or nothing.  Children's smiles light up the television screen as Santa doles out those presents at community gatherings.  It truly touches the heart deeply to see these young members of society be, for one moment, the center of attention for something good.  All of this is done in the spirit of the Magi whether it is acknowledged or not.  The Magi, the Three Wisemen, those first gift givers to the Christ child those centuries ago when Jesus first appeared on earth as a man. Even though these things are tremendously good, they still are really not what the season is all about.

At this time of the year, we often look back over the last twelve months to see where we have been and, perhaps, look forward to where we might be going in the upcoming year.  It is good to be retrospective about one's own life.  We do need to understand what we have done and what our lives have meant up to this point so that we may better focus on how to make our lives even more meaningful to our family, friends, and community.  Introspection is good and can produce mighty results.  And, yet, this is not what the season is all about.

What Christmas is about is all these things and so much more.  The television anchors and others do have it right when they say that the season is all about giving.  However, it isn't, nor should it be, centered around people giving to other people.  That is just a reflection of the true giving that has fostered all these good works.  We gather with family and friends in the spirit of love, togetherness, and caring, again a reflection of the real meaning of Christmas.  And, yes, taking care of those who are less fortunate in our communities is also a mere reflection of the real gift of the season.

You see, the real gift of the season is a gift that cannot be measured in human terms.  It cannot have a value of any sort placed upon it.  It is without price.  And, yet, it is priceless!  For the true gift giver of Christmas, the first one to give of self completely and without reservation is God Himself.  And that gift is, of course, His Son, our Lord and Savior.

This is the Gift that matters.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  (Jn 3:16) 

God becomes man in the person of Jesus Christ.  Without this most loving act, everything else we do during this season would have no meaning at all.  Everything would be an empty gesture, void of any substance whatsoever.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, when we gather together as a family with friends, we gather in honor of the love that God has shown us by giving to us His Son.  When we provide for those who have next to nothing, we do so not because it feels good, but because we are imitating the Creator of the Universe, God Himself.  Every 'Merry Christmas' we exchange with someone else is in imitation of the Son of God imparting His peace upon us.

So, as we draw very close to the day of Incarnation, Christmas, take a few moments to pause and reflect how you and your family have lived out the true meaning of Christmas.  That true meaning is, undoubtedly, love.  The love God has for us and the love we show Him through our actions at this holy season of Christmas as well as throughout the rest of the year.

May God give you His peace now and throughout the year.  And may you remember in the back of your mind as you go about celebrating this remarkable fact that all is in imitation of the Father who loved us beyond description so much so that He became one of us! 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

God Is Waiting. . .For You!

Advent is traditionally a time for waiting.  We await the birth of the Christ child who is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  We look to the future for His return and the final judgement that will take place on that day.  We look to the festive holiday ahead when we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to mankind, Jesus Christ.  We wait for the first significant snowfall in many parts of the land.  We wait for the first Christmas lights to dazzle the nighttime.  It is a time of waiting for something to happen.  The closer we get to Christmas itself, the more anxious we become for the holiday to be upon us.

But I would like to propose a waiting that many of us are most likely unaware of.  Do you know that God is waiting for you?  Do you know that one of the main reasons the human race has been created is because God loves us so much that He wants us to draw near to Him in order to return that love and bask in His graces.  From the sin of Adam and Eve, God has waited for us!  We are that important and that loved. 

But because of sin and our own blindness, we often turn our backs on Him, choosing instead to go our own way.  That, ironically, is also a gift from God.  It is called free will and it was freely given to us by the Divine Creator.  His promise is that He will never interfere with our free will no matter how misguided we may become.  He has lived up to that promise!

God will not force our hands nor will He force us on to some path that will inevitably lead us to Him.  He presents us with numerous opportunities to turn our hearts and minds to Him daily.  He awaits us in the sunrise, that spectacular moment when the life giving star we know as the sun appears over the horizon without fail.  He awaits us in the lonely souls living in nursing homes who have no visitors or families.  He awaits us in the hunger and cold of difficult economic times which try the souls and fabric of family life.  He awaits us in the homeless who drift from one spot to another in the cold at this time of year.  He awaits us in the downcast and trodden under foot who society has deemed unimportant, insignificant.  He awaits us in the frightened young girl who finds herself pregnant and can think of abortion as the only way out.  He awaits us in our neighbors, those who live around us and who we see coming and going daily but we don't know their names or much about them.

Yes, God does wait for you in all of these things and many more.  He especially awaits you in the moment when we commemorate the coming of His Son into this world to bring us the good news of salvation and eternal life.  He knows our heart deeply yearns for Him for He created that heart, a heart that has been emptied by the pain and loneliness of sin.  Yet, He is willing to forgive and accept us back into His loving arms as we continue on in our life's journey.

During this busy Advent season, as you wait in line to buy your Christmas presents, look around you and you will see Him everywhere and in everything, waiting and wondering when you will come to Him in humility and love, seeking only His great heart and mercy.  God does indeed reveal Himself to us in every way, shape, and form imaginable.  We must simply have the trust to see Him.  For He is there, waiting!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mary's Answer

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be it done unto me according to Your word."  (Lk 1: 38)  With this reply, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, changed the course of history.  She was responding to the Angel Gabriel who had been given the task of asking Mary to become the Mother of God.  Mary, devoted to the word of God, did not have to think about her reply for one second.  It was God's will.  There was no question as to what to do.  What is even more astonishing is the fact that Mary had the perfect right to refuse God's request and remain within His good graces all because of His gift that all of us share, free will.

Mary had the ability to reject God's offer without any explanation.  God bestowed upon man the freedom to choose to do what he pleases even if what he chooses is in direct conflict with the will of the Father.  God promised that He would never interfere with this freedom and, true to His word, He has never forced anyones hand into doing His will.

Mary's answer determined the course of history.  Christianity would become a dominant religion based upon the teachings and life of her Son, Jesus.  In our country, for instance, had there been no Jesus, our laws might look much different since this country was founded upon the principles found in the teachings of Jesus and those of the Old Testament.  Had Mary declined God's breathtaking offer, it is likely that the books of the Bible would not have taken on the relevance that they have.  It is also more than likely that if Mary had refused to become the Mother of the Redeemer, Jesus may never have been born!

God created Mary for one very specific and one very special function, to be the Mother of the Savior, the Messiah.  Everything else that she might do with her life was secondary.  Mary understood this and also understood that she would not have had to agree with God's offer.  But she did not hesitate.  In her answer, she reassured the world that the Messiah would soon walk among us, teaching us the Father's will, and supporting all who follow that will. 

Mary was singled out by God to be the Mother of His Son.  For this reason, Mary must necessarily be conceived without the stain of sin.  No impure vessel could ever be the home to the Divine Son of God.  If Mary had refused God's offer, would He simply have chosen someone else to bear His Son?  That cannot, of course, be known for certain one way or the other since Mary did indeed consent to be the Mother of Christ.    

In light of the fact that Mary was but a young peasant girl when she consented to such an enormous request, one must stand in awe of her self-sacrificial nature.   She did not pause for one moment to weigh the consequences or to try to determine what was in it for her.  Rather, she boldly accepted God's offer and never looked back.  She moved forward through time, using her life as an instrument of praise of the Father.  Once her Son was born, she introduced the world to Him and every day in every way led the human race to Him.  From the manger to the Cross, Mary stands by, pointing the human race not to herself, but, rather, to her Divine Son. 

We must never worship Mary for worship is reserved for the Blessed Trinity.  However, we must honor Mary for her selfless decision that allowed her to become the human vessel for her Son.  She is to be admired for her tireless devotion to her Son and constant quest to bring mankind to His love and mercy.  Mary's answer was an answer that quietly shook the foundations of the world and changed all our lives for the better.  Through Mary, we come to know Christ as only a mother can come to know a son.   May we come to understand Mary's action in the light of faith keeping always in mind that she was only the vessel that brought the Savior of the World into our midst.  And for that, we need to be eternally thankful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meeting the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

In the Catholic Church, we move through the year observing liturgical seasons.  We have Advent, those four Sundays before Christmas dedicated to our preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  Then we have Christmas, the season in which we celebrate the Incarnation, God become man.  Soon thereafter, we observe the season of Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday.  This is a time for self-examination and reevaluating our relationship with God.  It is a solemn time of atonement and a firm resolve to change our lives.  Then comes the glorious season of Easter, that time when our salvation was won by the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, completing the sacrifice necessary for that action.

But what of the rest of the year?  The year is not made up of one celebration after another.  Often, there is considerable time between celebrations.  On Sunday, November 14, 2010, we mark the last Sunday of this long season called Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is any time outside those periods throughout the year designated as feasts or special seasons of observation.  Ordinary Time is fittingly named because, after all, that is where we live. 

Most of us have what we would refer to as ordinary lives.  Our jobs are not extraordinary.  In fact, they seem downright mundane and very often boring.  When we get off work, most of us do not head to some exciting destination where thrills rule the day.   Most head home to some dinner and TV and some evenings perhaps a movie or a concert.  This cycle is repeated day in and day out giving a certain pattern and rhythm to our lives.  And while many of us come to find this pattern annoyingly uneventful, it does form the framework of our lives.

Jesus must have felt the same way.  Don't forget that He was a carpenter who worked for years before beginning His public mission.  He, too, faced the mundane daily chores that we call life.  He, too, knew the frustrations of the work day, the grinding boredom of endless hours spent at His craft.  Yet, His life, too, was framed by this day-to-day activity.

While we encounter our Lord in all seasons of the year, the fact is that we meet Jesus mainly in what we have come to call Ordinary Time.  The Gospel readings at Mass during this season recount the everyday life of the Messiah.  We see Him fishing with His Apostles.  We are there when he speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well after journeying several miles in the intense desert heat of the region seeking a cool drink of water.  We sit on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, listening to Him give us guidelines to living called the Beatitudes.  We marvel in wonder and amazement as He teaches us to pray to the Father in heaven with the use of the simple, yet holy and elevating language of the Lord's Prayer.  We sit at the roadside with He and His disciples as He watches an impoverished widow contribute nearly all she has to the Temple.  These are ordinary days in the life of Jesus and that is just how we encounter Him.

As we move through our ordinary days, opportunities arise each and every day to bump into the Savior through our ordinary actions.  Perhaps a co-worker is having a bad time of it at home.  When we reach out to them in kindness, we encounter Jesus the comforter.  Maybe one of our children is having a difficult time in school with bullies.  When we listen to that child and hear their fears, we become Jesus to that child in that moment, listening to the pleas of Martha and Mary on the death of their brother Lazarus.

We meet Christ most frequently in our lives through the ordinary days that we lead.  And those days are elevated by this encounter.  We come to know Jesus in an intimate way.  We have time to form a more personal relationship with Him.  Unlike major celebrations where hoards of people crowd in around the Savior, Ordinary Time allows us to gather at His feet as He continues to teach us through His Holy Spirit.

Look into the eyes of your spouse, your significant other, your brother or sister, or even your best friend and tell yourself that they are just ordinary.  What they do on a daily basis may be ordinary, but they, themselves, are anything but ordinary.  They are unique, special people in our lives so we should learn to treasure them and our time with them just as we would treasure our time with Jesus should He suddenly become physically present to us in the flesh.

Revel in the ordinary times of our lives.  For it is in these ordinary times that we meet the Extraordinary person of Jesus Christ in one another and in our ordinary lives.  There is a great comfort to know that we do not have to have a celebration each time we encounter Jesus in the ordinary.  He is comfortable with us as we go through our daily paces.  Reach out to Him in your ordinary way and experience the Most Extraordinary person you'll ever encounter.  Jesus Christ!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Standing At the Foot of the Cross

What must it have been like,
O Mother of God,
to stand and watch your beloved Son
suffer an ignominious death for the sins of man?

What must it have been like,
Mary most Holy,
to see the blood of your precious Son
flow down the wood of the Cross
onto the ground,
cleansing mankind through His
selfless act of sacrifice?

What must it have been like,
O Blessed Virgin,
to feel the sword of death
pierce your heart as foretold
by the Prophet Simeon so long ago?

What must it have been like,
O chosen Woman of God,
to cradle the lifeless body of the Savior
in your loving arms,
knowing all along that
this was His destiny?

What must it have been like,
O grieving Mary,
to carefully and tenderly lay to rest
the mortal remains of your Son,
most Holy, in the quiet
recesses of the newly-hewn tomb?

And what must your joy have been like,
O Queen of Heaven,
to see for the first time
your risen Son?

Allow me,
Mary, most gracious Mother of us all,
to stand by your side
at the foot of the Cross
so that you may touch my heart
with your broken heart,
so that in my hour of sadness you may
bring me comfort through our
shared sufferings.

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows,
pray to your beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
that our poor suffering may atone
for my sins and be offered
on behalf of the poor souls in

Teach me by example
how to suffer with dignity,
honesty and integrity.
Grant all of this in the name
of Your Son, our Lord
Jesus Christ!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pester God? (Lk 18: 1-8)

The Gospel this Sunday may lead to the thought that if we only continue to bombard God with our petitions He will grow weary and give in to our pleadings.  The judge in Jesus' parable that the Gospel features today does just that.  He is confronted with a widow who constantly goes to him, demanding a just decision.  Over and over she approaches him.  He grows tired of her pleading and demands and after a prolonged period of time the judge gives in to the widow and renders a just decision in favor of the woman.  He did so out of fear that if he would not the woman would actually strike him.

To really understand the words of our Savior, it is imperative to read on in the Gospel.  Jesus' point is not to pester God with our needs, although constant prayer to the Father is also a must.  Rather, the point of Jesus' parable is to persist in faith.  Do not give up believing in God and His ability to guide us through His Spirit to Himself. 

Faith requires much persistence.  We are constantly surrounded by events and even people who threaten our faith.  Even the strongest among us has moments of weakened faith because of our human nature.  One of the most prominent examples of this in recent years was that of Mother Theresa.  For years, she was in distress where her faith was concerned.  God was silent.  No matter how often she prayed, no matter what she did to gain His attention, He remained quiet.  Yet, Mother Theresa knew this too was a gift from God.  She used His silence to deepen her faith.  She did so through constant prayer, a daily holy hour, and continual working with the destitute and impoverished with the poor of India and the rest of the world.  Her persistence was rewarded later in her life as God once again began communicating more directly His love for her.

We must do the same in our lives.  We cannot pester God to do anything!   That is not the nature of our relationship with Him.  But what we can do is continually seek ways to develop an even deeper faith in Him.  Nothing we do of our own accord can achieve this.  We need the aid of the Holy Spirit.  As long as we remain persistent in our faith development, we will continue to grow in our love for God and come to appreciate the things He has granted us.  Our prayers will likely become less petition directed and more thanksgiving directed.  In living our lives this way we will develop an even more intimate relationship with the Father.

Pray always but realize that we must have faith always regardless of the circumstances of our lives!  If we do this, we can then assure Jesus that when He comes again, He will indeed find faith on earth!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Il Poverello--San Francesco

Today in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of one of the greatest and most well-known saints--Francis of Assisi.  Francesco di Bernadone was born in a small hill town in central Italy in 1182.  He was the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in Assisi and was born into a life of extreme privilege and ease.  And, early in his life, he reveled in that lifestyle.

Despite his wealth and prestigious position in the social life of Assisi, Francis, much to his father's horror and disgust, rejected everything material and became a devoted follower of poverty for the rest of his life.  His way of life was radical for its time.  The church had become very corrupt with a clergy getting wealthy at the expense of the laity.  Favors, called indulgences, were being bought and sold like any commodity found at the local market.  Very few attended Mass and most, while they paid homage to God, did not practice Christianity.

Francis rebelled against this and tapped into something that, as it turned out, many were seeking.  He found a life of simplicity and complete devotion to Jesus.  From the time of his conversion, the time he turned his life from the material world to the spiritual, till his death, he lived an impoverished life by choice so as to imitate the life that Jesus led.  He wanted nothing to stand in the way of his relationship with the Savior. 

Soon, he attracted followers who were drawn to him by his simple, direct message of joy and hope as found in life through Jesus Christ.  In the beginning, he attracted twelve followers and found that they needed something to guide them in their new way of life.  This guide, known as "The Rule", was drawn up by Francis and approved by Pope Innocent III some 800 years ago.  The rule survives today as the main guide of Franciscan Friars in the world today.

Francis also drew woman to his side who wished to follow his lifestyle as well.  One, who, like Francis, came from Assisi, came to him in secret against her family's wishes, in order to be accepted into the way of life adopted by the early friars.  Francis accepted her and thus was born the order of nuns we now know today as the Poor Clares.  They, like Francis, lived a life of poverty, without possessions or anything else that may be a barrier to their relationship with Jesus.

Many married men and women came to Francis to request that they be allowed to live as Francis and his followers did.  But the friars and the nuns were all unmarried and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  They lived in communities called cloisters and spent their days in prayer and contemplation.  But that did not stop Francis.  Promptly, he wrote a rule of life for the lay people to follow and all who were accepted into this fraternity became members of the Franciscan family.  All three orders founded by St. Francis, namely the Order of Friars Minor (ofm), the Poor Clares, and the Secular Franciscans still exist throughout the world.

Perhaps the thing that Francis is best known for is his respect and love of nature.  Most statues, medals, and other images of St. Francis depict him with animals surrounding him.  Some artwork of this nature make him look like a zoo keeper.  In reality, the reason that Francis is so closely aligned with nature is that he saw God in all things, in all of creation.  He revered the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all other creatures because they had as their creator none other than God.  In Francis' mind, this made every creature holy. 

Perhaps the most important thing to happen in the life of St. Francis was the imprinting of the stigmata of Christ.  These are the five wounds that Jesus endured when He was crucified.  Francis begged God to allow him to share fully in the sufferings of Jesus on the cross.  This was an amazing miracle.  It was the first time, as a matter of fact, that this had ever happened.  Francis endured these wounds during the final two years of his life.  They caused him unbearable pain.  During this time, he went blind due to an eye disease he contracted while in Egypt as he attempted to bring peace between the Christians and Muslims of the day.

The most remarkable thing about this little man from central Italy was his complete devotion to God and his deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ.  He found Christ in all things, including the lepers who lived in the area.  In Francis' day, leprosy was something to be profoundly feared.  Lepers had to live in colonies far outside the towns and the villages.  Whenever they traveled, they had to carry with them "clappers," and object made of two boards that when slapped together made a loud noise warning any oncoming pedestrian that a leper was near.  Lepers had to move out of the way of anyone else and let them pass.  They were forced to beg for their food and often went hungry since no one dare come into contact with them.

Francis was like everyone else where lepers were concerned.  He lived in mortal fear of them.  But he knew at heart that each one of these unfortunate human beings was made in the image of Jesus just as he was.  One day while traveling outside of his beloved Assisi, Francis encountered a leper.  Determined to change his way and truly find Christ in everyone, he climbed off his horse, drew near the diseased man, placed a coin in his hand and kissed him.  Repulsed, Francis moved away from the man but at the same time felt a sense of peace and joy that he had never encountered before.  When he looked back to see what had become of the leper, the man was gone, vanished into thin air.  This leper surely stayed in Francis' heart for the rest of his life.

So the lesson of St. Francis is this.  Find your leper, that person, situation, or circumstance that frightens you the most.  Learn about it not by running away from it but by running headlong towards it.  Embrace this leper of yours and realize that God and Jesus Christ are both very much alive in that leper.  Then feel the joy and peace that only they can bring.  That was the key to Francis' joy.  Not material things.  Not the security of this world, but the security of the love of God in every day life and in everything we encounter.

Pax et Bonum.  Peace and All Good!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Will Work for. . .Faith!

One fact of being a believer in Jesus is the fact that we must work for the faith that is necessary to be a good disciple.  It does not come easy and, once obtained, we must work at it in order to maintain it and grow it. 

Human nature is self-centered.  We believe and society reinforces that we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do.  We expect this.  As a matter of fact, if we were honest with ourselves, we demand it of God.  This expectation for a reward from God is often the reason we perform a good work in the first place.  It is a form of negotiation with God.  In other words, if we do this, then God will do that!  And that is preposterous!

We cannot ever have God in debt to us!  Never!  We must realize that when we perform good works, they are not our gift to God but God's gift to us!  All that is good, all good that happens to us comes from God.  It does not originate with us.  If we think that we have done something deserving of praise and reward from the Father, we have begun to think of things in terms of the flesh rather than the spirit.  We have begun to attribute the good in our lives as coming from us.  This is never true.  God is the author of good and no matter how good and faithful we may be, all of that comes from the Father. 

God is not in debt to us.  He has given us everything.  As a matter of fact, we can do nothing without the grace of God.  We can only do what He enables us to do so.  Even though that may be considerable, none of it comes from within us.  God gives us many gifts.  It is completely up to us whether or not we use them. 

When we have done all that we should do and then some, our disposition should be one of complete gratitude to God who granted us the ability to perform this act.  Work is a gift from God as well and we should never squander our time in working at our faith.  Temptations may--and will--come along no matter how diligent we are in our faith lives.  But if we aren't working at strengthening our faith, we will most certainly succumb to those moments.  When we are tempted, we must immediately turn to the Lord and plea with Him for His strength and courage to withstand the temptation.  He will not fail us as long as we remain faithful to Him. 

We may feel very good about being followers of Christ, and we should.  But we must also remember that being followers of Jesus is also a gift from the Father.  Jesus said as much when He said, "It was not you who chose me.  It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last."  (Jn 15: 16)  When Jesus chooses us, then, it is not time to rest.  It is time to get down to work!  We must always be a work in progress as we continue to seek ways to grow our faith!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Whoever Does Not Bear His Own Cross..." Lk 14:27

How do you bear the crosses which you encounter in your life?  How  do you react when suffering, regardless of its origin, comes your way?  Do you accept it as part of life and endure it with as much dignity as possible, or do you fight it, denying its existence by seeking ways out of the situation that simply do not exist.  Do you unite your sufferings to those of Christ in order to bear them as He did?  And just how do you unite your sufferings with those of the Savior?  These are important questions because suffering is an inevitable part of life that none of us can ever fully avoid. 

Suffering.  Carrying our cross is not a concept that we are comfortable addressing unless we're trying to figure out a way to either avoid it or relieve it.  Obviously, if we can, we should avoid suffering at all costs.  It is the healthy and life preserving thing to do!  If we or someone we know is suffering, it is good to try to relieve their pain.  That, too, is the healthy and good thing to do.  Unfortunately, we cannot always avoid suffering nor relieve it.  We must witness it silently, understanding that there is nothing we can do about the situation.

Jesus offers no way out, there is no way around suffering.  He flatly states that if we are to follow Him we must take up our crosses and come after Him.  We must endure such suffering in the same way as He did-- with complete faith and confidence in the will of His Father. 

Jesus suffered all of His life because He knew that He bore the sins of the world in order that we all might have a share in eternal life.  He bore His cross to Calvary quietly and with dignity even though He was a completely innocent man condemned to die in the most unthinkable way.  He did not become impatient with us on His life's journey to Calvary because His love for us overcame our sinfulness. 

Suffering is not an easy thing to endure.  Suffering can take many forms, of course.  We can experience physical suffering.  Many endure psychological suffering.  Still others encounter espiritual suffering that is often accompanied by feelings of great emptiness.  Regardless of the nature of the suffering, human nature itself can be pushed and tested to the very limits through suffering, bearing one's cross.

Recently,  a family member was hospitalized following an injury.  Subsequent tests revealed that what caused the injury in the first place was cancer in its latter stages.  This was shocking news since this person has had a long history of good health. 

Family members were in shock at this completely unforeseen news.  No one knew quite what to say or how to say it.  Shock turned to worry.   Worry about how the future will pan out.  Worry about how to make this beloved member of the family comfortable and happy.  Worry about expenses that illnesses inevitably bring.  Fear of how each individual will react to the news and the undeniable outcome.  All of these things represent a cross that will be borne by each and every one.

When we say we will unite our sufferings with those of Christ, we do not to say that once we do this successfully, the sting of the suffering will disappear.  Quite the contrary.  Remember, while Jesus hung on the cross, one of the Romans offered him a sponge soaked in a mild sedative so as to relieve His pain and make Him more comfortable.  Jesus refused.  This seemingly strange refusal of aid teaches us that to suffer as Christ suffered we must be open to the pain that accompanies all suffering.  Instead of focusing on avoiding or alleviating pain that will not be dissipated, but, instead, focusing on the will of God and the love He has for us, will soothe our souls, thus allowing the peace of Christ to enter our hearts even during moments of the most intense pain we may encounter. 

We must never seek out suffering for this is a sick and twisted way of living.  However, we must also learn that not all suffering can be overcome by some modern day miracle drug or treatment.  The suffering of the human heart is often without treatment.  However, the one thing that Christ promises is that if we but follow Him while carrying our own crosses, we will taste His peace that is not of this world.

All of us, because of our own individuality, must decide for ourselves as to how to properly carry the crosses in our own lives.  We must also come to grips with the fact that our human nature will fight us on this since to avoid pain altogether is innate within us.  Without this desire for survival with as minimal pain as possible while still acknowledging for what it is, we might as well give up on ourselves.  For we will never move forward in life without the burdens of unresolved suffering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Frogiveness--Matt 18: 21-22

Peter is always anxious to please the Lord and so when he approaches Jesus regarding the question of how many times we need to forgive those who have sinned against us, he is very confident that he has the right answer.

"Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?"  Peter must have felt very proud in this moment, thinking that Jesus would surely acknowledge Peter's great sense of mercy.  But then, as He often does, Jesus upsets the apple cart.

"I say to you, not seven times but seven times seventy."

Peter must have felt very foolish in that moment for what Christ was teaching Peter and all of us who follow Him, is that in order to count ourselves as true disciples of Christ, we must be limitless in our forgiveness of others just as our Father in heaven is toward us. 

Most of us yearns for forgiveness from someone we have wronged at one time or another.  It is within our nature to have no barriers stand between ourselves and others.  We crave the forgiveness of others because we know that we are all connected on a deeply spiritual level.

However, when it comes to forgiving others, it is often quite difficult to do so.  Why?  There are probably countless reasons for this.  One might be pride.  In order to forgive someone, humility must be practiced.  If we are not humble in our approach to another, then we cannot possibly open ourselves up to forgiveness for that would mean we would have to admit our sinfulness to another.

Another reason it may be so difficult to forgive is because the hurt inflicted upon us by the other party may run so deep that we may never heal enough to truly reach out in mercy to the offender with an offering of our forgiveness.

Society is not good at forgiving others.  We are great when it comes to vengeance, but not so great when it comes to mercy, kindness, and forgiveness.  We think retribution means justice when all it really means is bitter vengeance.  This has no place in the heart that yearns for Jesus.

Jesus also teaches us that we must be willing to go beyond simple forgiveness.  We must love one another as He did.  We must be willing to make the same sacrifice as He did in order for us to bear worthy and healthy fruit.  Others, who are not Christian, must be able to see us as Christians through our actions.  We must forgive our enemies first and foremost.  Jesus also taught us that it was worth very little to forgive those whom we love.  That's easy!  But for those who have wounded us ever so deeply, it is very difficult to forgive them feeling that the pain they inflicted is too great to overcome.  Words are fine but do not have the weight of those actions.

Jesus forgave us with His all.  Through His brutal passion and crucifixion, He gave His life for us freely and openly simply because it is our Father's intention to have all His children home in His kingdom one day.  This requires Jesus to forgive us an infinite number of times even if we do the same thing over and over.  We are not asked to do the impossible by the Master, but, rather, we are asked to become fully human in all our frailties and vulnerabilities our of pure love for God.

Forgiveness is not an option.  Jesus has not left it up to us to decide who needs to be forgiven.  If we do not, this is a sure sign of a hardened heart, one that may be, in some way, incapable of responding to the Spirit in his life.

Pray that you may learn to forgive--truly forgive--all those who may have hurt you throughout the course of your life whether you're young and just starting out in life, or whether you are in the twilight of life.  Without forgiveness, there can be no salvation!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Our Little Faith--Matt 17: 14-20

Jesus was once approached by a father of a boy who suffered from some form of mental illness.  The father describes his son's condition as being a "lunatic and suffers severely."  (Matt 17: 15)  The father, rather than bother the Master had first gone to His disciples for a cure.  Unfortunately, no matter how hard they might try, they were unable to affect a cure.  Out of sheer desperation, the father approached Jesus to ask for His help. 

Jesus must have been frustrated with the disciples because He calls them a "faithless and perverse generation."  (Matt 17: 17)  Jesus then told the father to bring the boy to Him.  Jesus rebuked the demon within the boy and immediately a demon came out of him.  That is the way the gospel describes the miracle.  The Apostles, certainly astonished by Jesus' ease of curing the possessed young man, inquired why they were unable to do the same thing.  Jesus answered them, "because of your little faith."  (Matt 17: 20)  They must have been stunned that the Master, at whose feet they had sat and learned from all this time, could even say such a thing let alone think it!

In light of today's Gospel, it is fair to ask yourself this question:  how much faith do you have? 

All of us tend to believe that we have a great deal of faith.  Many of us go to Mass on a regular basis.  Some of us might even volunteer in our parishes to contribute to the well-being of the faith community.  But these things do not necessarily indicate the depth of faith that is within your heart.

Is our faith more like that of Mary, Jesus' mother?   Are we willing to say "Yes" to God in His Divine will for us even though the consequences may be quite high?  Are we willing to accept the will of the Father even though we may not know specifically what that will is?  Can we suspend any doubt about God and follow Him without regard to the circumstances attached to such discipleship?

Jesus tells us that if we but have "faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountains, 'Move from here to there and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you."  (Matt 17: 20)  The mustard seed is one of the tiniest seeds found in nature.  Yet it produces a tree that is think and full of vegetation.  Its wood is very hardy and the plant is very difficult to kill.  And Jesus tells us if we have faith only that size, nothing will be impossible for us!

Think of that.  Nothing will be impossible to us if we but develop a true faith only the size of a mustard seed.  We limit ourselves far too much and far too often.  We tell ourselves that we are not capable of spreading the Good News of salvation by talking about our faith with a friend or family member.  We pray to God about something, yet how often after the prayer is uttered, do we disregard the possibility that God will answer our prayer?

Do you truly believe that if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move a mountain simply by commanding it to do so?  We are all doubting Thomases!  We prefer to follow such things as science blindly, accepting every theory as true.  But if one pure truth is presented such as abortion is morally and spiritually offensive to God and a serious sin of the worst kind, then we debate and seek the truth of the matter when the truth has been there all along.  In the end, we seem to have decided that it is up to each individual to decide for themselves.

We must work to increase our faith to the size of that mustard seed!  We must do so through fasting, prayer, attendance on a regular basis at Mass, and regular reception of the Eucharist which is not only the summit of our faith, but the very definition of our salvation.  Perhaps, if we begin to rely on the Holy Spirit more frequently and begin relying on ourselves less so, our faith will become the size of the mustard seed!  If that is the case, look out mountains!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Confidence-- Matthew 14: 22-36

"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"  These words were uttered to Peter after Jesus rescued Peter from drowning after Peter walked on water to reach Christ who was also walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee.  Peter had plenty of faith in Jesus to walk on the water--at first.  But then he took his eyes off the Lord and when he became thus distracted, he began to sink.  Peter's confidence failed him and at that moment, he failed Christ.

Jesus could, in fact, say the same thing to us, probably on a daily basis!  Peter's confidence was shaken by the wind and waves.  When his confidence in those things overtook his confidence in Jesus, he sank.  The same can be said about us.

All of us can relate to this story on various levels because, like Peter, we have all faltered in our faith and our beliefs in Christ which leads to a decrease in our confidence in Christ to see us through anything.  We may protest initially at this notion because we all would like to think that our faith in unwavering.  If Peter, who was the Apostle chosen by Christ Himself to lead the church, had his faith falter, who are we to think that we can or will escape the same fate?

Test your confidence in Christ.  Ask yourselves some of these questions or ones similar to them.

1.  Do I have more confidence in the stubbornness of my spouse, child, coworker, pastor, or parish council than I have in the power of Jesus to change their hearts?

2.  Am I more confident in the tendency of people to reject my witness to Jesus than I am in the ability of the Holy Spirit to spur them to respond to the Lord?

3.  Do I have more confidence that I won't have the finances or energy necessary to get by in life than I have in the ability of God the Father to supply me with the grace, love, and resources I need from day to day?

4.  Do I have more confidence in the staying power of my compulsions, addictions, sins, and personal shortcomings than I have in the ability of Jesus to overcome them and give me a victorious and pure life?

Of course, there are countless other questions that we could ask ourselves to check the confidence or faith we have in the Lord.  All of us have moments in which our faith in the Lord falters.  That really isn't all that important.  What is important is that we reach out to Christ for the strength and the grace to regain our balance and continue on our journey of faith and growth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We must learn to fix our gaze on the power of Christ (Heb 12: 2) instead of our problems.  "Do not, then, surrender your confidence; it will have great reward" (Heb 10: 35).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Possessions?? Luke 12: 13-21

Today's gospel could hardly have a clearer message: do not allow possessions to become your gods!  Jesus was very clear in this because He understood how easily we become attached to the things of this world.  He knew that our attachments were not mere distractions, but dangerous relationships with things that have no meaning.

Jesus did not mean to say that we should not possess anything.  What He meant was that those possessions are not to become so important that they take possession of us and rule our lives. 

We may, in fact, think that we are not possessed by any of our possessions.  We may be proud of ourselves in thinking that we have risen above the fray and have managed to put the things we own in proper perspective.  But think for just a minute.  How often during the day do you look at your cell phone to check for any messages that may have been sent your way.  How often do you find yourself texting a message immediately upon reception thus taking up time when that moment may have been used for something more meaningful.

How much time do you spend on social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter?  How much time do you spend in front of the television mindlessly watching something that you really have no interest in and something which does not lead us to a closer relationship with God?

Have you ever tried a media fast?  Have you ever tried to abstain from the use of one form of media for a length of time in order to give that time over to the Lord?  Have you turned off the TV for more than the overnight hours?  Have you ever gotten into the car in the morning to go to work without tuning in your favorite radio station or making sure that it is already set to that station? 

Perhaps it is time for a media fast to check to see just how close we are to the Lord and also to see just how much time our gadgets take up in our lives.  I think you will be amazed at how much time we spend with the modern conveniences of our lives.

It is important to do these things, to grow closer to Jesus Himself, because as the end of this particular gospel states, it may just be possible that "this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom do they belong?"  (Lk 12: 21)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Astonished--Matt 13: 54-58

Our society yearns to worship heroes.  We look to celebrities for wisdom and knowledge and understanding not because they are the rare possessors of such virtues, but because they have achieved a level of notoriety.  If someone filled with knowledge, wisdom, and understanding but was not well known, how much credence would we give them?  They may have a certain level of credibility in some circles, but, for the most part, they would go mainly unnoticed.

Jesus encountered this in today's Gospel reading.  He comes back home for a visit and as was His custom, went to the synagogue to worship with the people who watched Him grow from childhood to manhood.  By this time, Jesus' reputation had grown and He was becoming well known.  People came to listen to Him from all over.  But here, in His home town, the people who knew Him most intimately for most of His life, questioned how He could do the things He did and preached with the authority He displayed.

Jesus was a simple man.  He came from a simple background.  Day-to-day life was a struggle as He grew toward manhood.  He and Joseph worked hard to eek out a living for the family.  As he matured, there was very little about Him that was remarkable.  He was a simple carpenter who lived a quiet, undisturbed life.  So how was it, that now, well into His adult years, He could pronounce new truths and teachings with the eloquence He now possessed.  But it was not His mere eloquence.  It was the power of His words and the message which He proclaimed.  Someone with that simple of a background certainly could not be the bearer of such wisdom!

How many prophets do we have in our midst?  How many great teachers do we bump elbows with in malls, grocery stores, and even church?  Yet, we do not recognize them, nor do we give them a seconds worth of thought because "they aren't educated," or "they aren't famous."  They aren't theologians, individuals who have dedicated years of their lives to studying and seeking God in formal educational institutions.  So why would anyone listen to them?

We need to be more attuned to those around us.  Wisdom abounds in our midst yet we are mostly unaware of it.  Think if we would treat the words and teachings of Jesus as just so many words and pay Him little heed because He had not achieved some high level of education or celebrity!  Yet, do we not do that when we turn a deaf ear on those prophets in our midst? 

We can never be sure where the wisdom of God and the love of Jesus united through the Holy Spirit will come to us next.  Perhaps that neighbor we see every morning as we leave for work is a true prophet.  Yet, have we ever had a meaningful conversation with them?  Our co-workers may be spirits filled with the zeal for God and harbor gems of wisdom and understanding in their souls and all we can talk about is the weekend and the results of last night's ballgame!

Pray to the Spirit to guide you to listen more carefully to the voices around you.  God speaks to us in many ways and He is not above using some of the least likely individuals in our lives to spread His love for us.  These people are gifts from God to us.   May we learn to look upon each other as such!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Martha--Lk 10: 38-42

One of the more interesting relationships that Jesus had was with His close friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany, a little village only a short distance from Jerusalem.  Jesus evidently spent much time at their home and they became fast friends.

As in every family, these siblings could not be much different from each other in so many ways.  Most interestingly, however, are the personalities of the sisters Mary and Martha.

Both loved Jesus very much and it is quite evident from the gospels that Jesus felt very much at home with them.  Mary, we can imagine, was the quiet, contemplative type.  We can easily picture her off somewhere by herself just walking and pondering.  She must have been a sponge where the words of Jesus were concerned.  Scripture, in fact, points this very fact out.

Martha, on the other hand, was the industrious type, always in motion, always looking after the needs of her family and guests.  She, too, was quite obvious enamored with the teachings of Christ, but she found great comfort in doing things.

Such is the setting of today's gospel.  Jesus has come for a visit.  At this point in His ministry, Jesus has attracted many, many followers and even more curiosity seekers.  The house must have been a beehive of activity with Martha fully in command.

As Jesus seats Himself to begin to teach those gathered around Him, Mary sits at His feet, hanging on every word out of the Savior's mouth.  She is enraptured with what He is teaching and she is so fixed on Him that we can imagine she did not notice the activity going on around her.

Martha's kitchen must have been in full working order that day.  And, as usual, Martha was right in the thick of things.  She loves taking care of her guests, especially Jesus, but it is tiring, time-consuming work.  Looking for her sister to help her out in her many chores, she spies her at the feet of Jesus.  Angry and rather indignant, she approached the Lord and begged Him to tell her sister to get to work to help her with her duties.  But Jesus surprises Martha.

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."  (Lk 10: 41-42) 

How many times do we delude ourselves into thinking that we are productive simply because we busy ourselves with many chores?  How often do we look on those who would rather contemplate mysteries and conditions of life with a sense of superiority and disdain because they are not being productive?  And how many of us become Martha in order to avoid any deep or pertinent contemplation on such subjects as our relationship with Jesus.

We live in a society that rightfully honors industriousness and achievement.  We have been created by God to use the talents and gifts He has seen fit to bestow upon us in positive ways.  There is, in short, nothing the matter with being Martha from time to time.

But it is also that we allow ourselves to become Mary, to sit at the feet of the Master and drink in all that He has to teach us.  Jesus scolded Martha not because He looked down upon her work.  Quite the contrary!  We can be certain that He fully appreciated the trouble that Martha had gone to.  But He also wanted to tell Martha that she should allow herself some time throughout the day to sit at the feet of the Master, to learn from Him and to grow even closer.

The Lord tells us that there is only need of one thing and that is a relationship with God founded on faith and supported by our love for Him.  Beyond this, we need nothing more.  How difficult it is to come to this conclusion in a society that values human doings instead of human beings!  And, yet, that is where we will be led if only we take up our rest at the feet of the Savior.

Monitor your behavior throughout the day.  How many times do you take on the roll of Martha?  How many times do you busy yourselves unnecessarily so when you could be spending that time at the feet of Jesus?  Make a resolution that you will allow Mary to become a part of your day, seeking the Lord's teachings and basking in the love of Christ that can only be found at the feet of the Messiah, Jesus the Lord!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Your Mustard Seed Matt 13: 31-35

How is your mustard seed?  In today's gospel, Jesus tells us about the mustard seed.  The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds found in nature.  However, it produces a bush that is huge.  It is thick and strong and birds love to nest within its sturdy branches.

What does this have to do with us?  Simple.  Hope.

If you simply look at a mustard seed, you may wonder just how something that tiny could even survive let alone be transformed into the kind of plant it is.  Looking at the mustard seed, we surely can discover hope.  Hope is a prized commodity.  Without hope, our spirits will certainly fail.  Hope leads us ever forward and aids in establishing trust.

Too often, however, we do not define or identify what hope truly is.  I'm not talking about the kind of hope that you may have that tomorrow will be sunny and mild for a planned picnic.  That is one form of hope but it is not spiritual hope, rooted firmly in God.

Hope, spiritual hope, is not just a strong desire for something.  Instead, it is a firm belief in someone, namely God.  When we truly believe in God and believe His teachings, we find the roots of hope, true hope.  This hope propels us forward in our relationship with God and as we grow closer to Him, we find that it is this hope that fuels the fires of intimacy.  We come to trust in Him and may even reach a point where we depend upon Him for everything simply because we know that God does not break His promises to us.

That is why we must pray every day.  Without prayer, hope dies.  Without communication with the Father, our spirit loses its energy and resigns itself to a mundane existence.

 It is so easy to lose hope when things do not go our way.  This is mostly because most of what we call hope is actually something like a wish list.  We want desperately for this list to come true and wait anxiously for the day that this has been verified. 

We may lose hope because of a number of things.  We may have just lost a loved one and feel empty without them.  We might play over and over again in our minds the last time we saw them or the last conversation we had with them.   We may lose hope at this point because our sadness overwhelms our sense of judgement and perspective.

But focusing on the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, with an ever open heart to the Holy Spirit, we can keep hope alive even in the most dire of circumstances.  It is hard to do and Satan makes it no easier with his lies and deceitful ways. 

All of us have a mustard seed inside.  It is the seed of hope which will lead us to love and the long journey back to the Father.  We place our trust in our Creator and find that in doing so, our intimacy with God, His Son, and Holy Spirit, grows all the more intimate.  In turn, our relationships then begin to cement for the first time even though a given relationship may be years old. 

Nurture your mustard seed so that the glimmer of hope that we all experience may be replaced with the certainty that God loves us and guides us every step of the way through life.  We must have hope!  We cannot allow it to die within us for if it does, our spirit will soon die as well, leaving us a hollow shell and a life filled with meaningless actions.

Hope!  Trust in God.  Love Him with all your heart and mind.  And that hope will grow into a lifelong love affair with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Persistence Lk 11: 1-13

So often, we are very impatient.  We are told that we can expect anything and everything that we want nearly immediately.  The media tells us this through advertising.  We can purchase nearly anything on the Internet and much of what we do buy online is delivered immediately.  We turn a light switch on and the light goes on.  Immediate gratification!  We've come to expect this and even feel that we have a right to it.

God, however, does not necessarily work in this fashion.  He sometimes delivers immediate answers to our prayers, but not frequently.  If we are in a relationship with God, we have to learn patience.  God moves according to His own time and design.

This apparent slow movement on the part of God is yet another loving manifestation of His love for us.  We need to learn to be patient.  While technology may move us along at light speed, our spiritual development cannot.  We must learn to contemplate our relationship with God.  We must learn to spend quiet time in the presence of the Almighty.  We must learn that we oftentimes have to be persistent in our prayers. 

Jesus points this out very clearly in today's Gospel reading taken from the Gospel of St. Luke.  Jesus tells us the parable of the persistent friend who goes to his neighbor in the middle of the night to borrow some bread in order to feed a friend who has just arrived.  The neighbor in need doesn't give up in his request.  He keeps asking until, worn down by his neighbor's requests, he gives in, gets up, and delivers the loaves of bread.

The message of this gospel story is not that if we hound God unceasingly He will finally give in having grown tired of our repeated petitions.  Rather, the message of the Gospel is consistency in our prayer lives.

God wants us to come to Him regularly.  He desires to hear from us on all sorts of occasions.  He wants us to come in moments of need, to be sure.  But He also desires our company in good times and bad.  He wishes to hear from us in times of tribulation and peace.  He wishes for us to "drop" in on Him if only for a very few short moments throughout the day to share with Him the events of the day. 

Our prayers are important to God not because He has a need to know what is going on with us.  Rather, our prayers are important to Him because they are manifestations of our love and dependence upon Him.  We have been created by God for God.  Jesus tells us to trust in His Father in the same reading by saying simply, "ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

We can be very sure that God will answer our prayers.  But, He will answer them in His own good time.  While we await His answer, we must persist in addressing Him in prayer.  We must always remain close to Him because nothing that comes our way that is good comes from Him through His Son Jesus Christ. 

Likewise, we must be persistent with one another.  We must continually pray for each other.  We must always look to see if there isn't something we can to to help the other person, either spiritually or physically.  We must never neglect the needs of others for our Father never neglects our needs.  He is always diligent and ready to respond to our needs.  Through our persistence in prayer, we will come to know Him and ourselves in ways that before were unknown to us.

And the sweetest prayer the Father can receive is the prayer that our Lord taught His disciples in the beginning of this reading.  The Lord's Prayer is a prayer of persistence and petition.  Over and over again we ask the Father to deliver us from the snares of the devil as well as providing us with our daily needs both spiritually and physically.  Pray it often for the words come from His beloved Son while the sentiment and sincerity is ours!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

That They May Be One

"Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you."  (Jn 17: 20-21)

Gaze at a crucifix.  Take it in fully.  Look into the eyes of the figure on the cross and be transfixed into the moment this image represents.  Do not gaze upon it with the eyes of your body, rather gaze upon it with the eyes of faith.  Let your heart be absorbed into the moment.  Reflect carefully upon the bloody sacrifice that is represented by this piece of sculpture.  Allow the world to fade into the background and become one with the wounded man on the cross.  Be aware and alert to your feelings during this time.  At one point on this journey, I am sure that you will suddenly feel a part of the Christ who hangs, arms suspended and legs fastened with brutal nails to the wood.  In this moment, you and Jesus have become one in a unique and mysterious way that will lead to communion with the Father. 

Your heart will leap for joy in this moment because you have united in an intimate way with the Creator.  In addition to joy, I am also sure that you will begin to feel a particularly strong sense of security, one that delivers a warm sensation throughout your body and soul.  Realize in this moment as well, that the sense of security you now experience is far beyond any sense of well-being that you have ever known. 

This is how our flesh is made one with the Father.  It is through Jesus Christ that we come to the Father and are unified with him.  It is at this time when you come to the realization that the Father is at work in you and there is nothing nor anyone who could persuade you otherwise because you have come to the Truth.  Pilate's question,  "What is truth?" (Jn 18: 38) is now answered.  Truth is unity in the Father through the Son bound together with the love of the Holy Spirit. 

When we reach this level of truth, we may become amazed how often in the past we may have sought assurance about the existence of God.  We may wonder why we even had doubts in the first place.  God has been at work in you all of your life.  He continues still, despite your sinfulness, because he loves and cherishes you and will never give up on you.  He wants nothing more than to be one with you so that we can be at one with one another, thus spreading the peace of the Kingdom of God here on earth. 

When we reach communion with God, there is no fear that cannot be overcome.  Unity with God, with the sufferings of his beloved Son, ensures us that our joy will be complete in every aspect of our lives whether we are in moments of supreme happiness or the tragedy of suffering that afflicts us so often in life.  When we have truth, namely our unification with God, we have everything.  We can want for nothing more.  We can feel free to approach the throne of God in the form of the crucifix and unite ourselves with a Savior who has loved us beyond our comprehension just so we may shed the chains of sin and death and have eternal life.

Gaze into a crucifix soon, at be at one with God and at peace with the universe!