Archive for the ‘Chrisitian Virtues’ Category

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “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 threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Saving Dates & Saving Souls

September 5, 2020

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The just shall flourish like the palm tree… They shall bear fruit even in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” (Psalm 92)

In the time of Jesus, forests of Judean date palms covered the whole region from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. This plant, the date palm, symbolized ancient Israel. When the scriptures call Israel “the land of milk and honey” we today think of cow’s milk and the honey of bees. But milk in the Old Testament is just as likely to be goat’s milk and the honey it refers to is usually the sweet honey of dates. By the 1500’s, human activity or changes in the climate had caused the Judean date palm to disappear. Because of that species’ extinction, the date palm plants grown across Israel today were brought over from California in the 1950’s and 60’s; they’re different in species and originally native to elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the Judean date palm was not to be lost forever.

The Judean Date Palm Tree Methuselah in 2018

During the 1960’s, archaeologists excavated the mountaintop palace fortress of Masasda built by King Herod the Great near the Dead Sea. There they found, preserved dry and sheltered in an ancient jar, a cache of date seeds which carbon testing indicates are 2,000 years old. These seeds were kept in storage at an Israeli university in Tel Aviv for forty years. Then, in 2006, an American-educated horticulturalist in Israel planted several of those seeds. To her and her colleagues’ delighted surprise, one sprouted. They named that plant after the oldest person in the Old Testament, Methuselah. Today it’s over eleven feet tall. After their success with Methuselah, they planted more ancient date seeds from Masada and the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and six new samplings have grown. They hope to pollinate one or more of the new female palms with pollen from Methuselah, which is male palm, eventually yielding the famous delicious dates of ancient times.

While the fruit of Judean date palms was celebrated for its sweet flavor and medicinal uses, its palm branches are also noteworthy. They were probably the kind of palm branches that the crowds waved and laid before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was killed, the day we call Palm Sunday. Jesus once lamented: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus knew the history of the prophets as he entered Jerusalem – how God would send them to proclaim the right path to his people, usually urging conversion from their sins. Heeding the truth will set you free; but first, it may make you uncomfortable, defensive, and angry. God’s people typically resisted the saving message and derided, denounced, attacked, imprisoned, and killed the prophets. And then, the unhappy consequences the prophets had foretold would follow naturally and unchecked. Knowing how reluctant sinners are to listen and change, why did the prophets bother? And what was the point of it all when people so rarely listened? I suggest God’s prophets had three motivations.

One was to personally avoid God’s judgment themselves. In our first reading, the Lord warns the prophet Ezekiel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” The prophets did not want to be condemned for failing to do their holy duty.

A second motivation of the prophets was love, love for God and love for their neighbors. As St. Paul told the Romans in our second reading: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… whatever other commandment there may be, [is] summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you were in danger, recklessly or unknowingly headed towards some serious physical or spiritual harm, don’t you wish someone would warn you? The prophets loved enough to try.

And a third motivation of the prophets was hope, hope that one day, perhaps many years later, the people they spoke to would be saved. The previously rebellious people, seeing their city ruined and their kingdom conquered as the prophets had foretold, would know that God had warned them and know that their next step should be to return to the Lord and walk in his ways. What motivated the prophets of old should motivate us as well, for many people go astray today.

Brothers… if a person is caught in some transgression,” St. Paul tells the Galatians, “you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit…” Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault (privately,) between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have (successfully) won over your brother.” And as St. James writes in his New Testament letter, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Fraternal correction isn’t fun, I know, but “admonishing the sinner” is a spiritual work of mercy you and I as Christians are called to do. Like the prophets, we are to place seeds, seeds containing the power and potential to yield sweet and healing fruit. Sometimes these seeds produce an immediate holy harvest through conversion. Yet we know our seeds will often be set aside, discarded, and forgotten; until, perhaps many years later after much desolation, these dormant seeds’ true and precious value is recognized, they’re allowed to sprout with deep new roots, and life that was once lost and dead is fully restored, producing good fruits again, to the joy of all God’s people.

The Disciples’ Burdens

August 2, 2020

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Only one miracle (besides the Resurrection) appears in all four Gospels: that’s today miracle – Jesus’ multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed more than five thousand people. Bringing all four of these Gospel accounts together provides us with a detailed picture of that day, one of the most amazing days in Jesus’ ministry. However, for the apostles, much of that day probably felt far from awesome.

First, the terrible news had recently arrived that John the Baptist had been murdered by the government, his neck severed by a soldier at Herod’s command. John the Baptist was Jesus’ beloved relative. At least two of the apostles had once been John’s own disciples. They all held the Baptizer in high esteem. So the unjust killing of this righteous man was shocking, and the senseless death of their friend was sorrowful.

Another strain on them that day was their shared fatigue. The apostles had just come back from the villages Jesus had sent them out to in missionary pairs to preach, and heal, and cast out evil spirits. Upon their return to Jesus, Mark’s Gospel tells us that “people were coming and going in such great numbers that they had no opportunity even to eat.” So Jesus says to his apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” The apostles might have thought to themselves, “Finally, a break.

Jesus and his apostles embark in the boat by themselves toward a deserted place called Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But other people see them leaving, word gets around, and many come to know about it. They hasten there on foot from all the towns and arrive at the place even before the boat did. So when Jesus and the apostles disembarked, a vast crowd of thousands was already there waiting for them. Imagine the apostles’ mixed emotions; “Great, another massive crowd. I guess our retreat is over.” But Jesus beholds the crowd and his heart is moved with pity for them, for they are like sheep without a shepherd, unsettled and unled. Jesus cures their sick and proceeds to teach them many things. So maybe the apostles got a little break that afternoon after all.

When evening came, the apostles approached Jesus to say, “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.” Jesus says to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” They respond, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” They’re already mourning an unexpected, painful loss. They’re burnt-out from their recent labors. And now, Jesus seems to expect the impossible from them. Can you relate to that today?

Of course, we’ve heard the gospel story and know how it ends. You and I now already know what happens next. Taking the five loaves and two two fish, and looking up to his Father in Heaven, Jesus says the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples, who in turn (at Jesus’ command) give them to the crowds. They all eat an are satisfied and finish with more than they began. Jesus takes what his disciples offer him (as meager as it is), gives each of them an important role to lay, and works something amazing through them.

Brothers and sisters, what will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? Do these things separate us from the love of Christ? What of pandemics, or quarantines, or closures, or face coverings, or financial troubles, or personal failures? Will these things separate us from the love of Christ? No, in all these things we can conquer overwhelmingly through him who loves us. For neither death, nor life, nor spirits, nor politicians, nor time, nor space, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. These are hard days, and we might be tired and discouraged. But do not doubt the good you are doing, nor the good that you will do, because Jesus Christ is with you.

Finding Your Treasure Map

July 27, 2020

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Jesus gives us few details but I imagine his first story like this. A traveler is walking a dusty road he has gone down many times before, but today as he looks out at a field nearby he notices a sunlit glint coming from the dirt. Now curious, he investigates and discovers a broken wooden crate full of gold and silver coins, apparently uncovered by recent plowing and rain. (Reportedly, in the turbulent conditions of the Holy Land in that era, it was not unusual to safeguard valuables by burying them in the ground.) Shoving the coins back inside, the man reburies the treasure on the spot with handfuls of dirt and then joyfully goes off to sell all he has in order to buy the entire field with the treasure in it. But why doesn’t he simply carry the treasure away? Who would ever know? Because that would be stealing, and in the words of our psalm the commands of God are “more precious (to him) than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” True happiness is not to be gained through evil, and one cannot come to possess the riches of God’s Kingdom using wicked means.

In Jesus’ second story today, a pearl merchant comes across a high-priced pearl for sale. Its price, let’s say, is a hundred thousand dollars. Others may have beheld this beautiful jewel before, but this pearl merchant has a discerning, expert eye. He recognizes that this pearl’s worth is significantly more than its cost and shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he seems crazy. “Selling everything you own just for one pearl?” But the man knows what he’s about and that he will profit from this transaction.

Obviously, these two parables are similar. In both stories, men find things of great value and sell everything that they have to possess them. In this, both the traveler and the merchant display courage; courage against others’ judgments, and courage against their own natural fears. Onlookers might tell them, “What are you doing? Are you nuts? You’re giving up everything just for that?” And because we all have an incredible ability to doubt ourselves, the traveler and merchant might wonder, “What if I’m mistaken and the thing I found is a worthless fake? Or what if sell all I own and return to find the thing has disappeared?” These men will only possess the treasure or the pearl (and the profit which come from them) if they do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others.

We can also learn from these two stories’ differences. The fact that Jesus gives us two parables instead of just one suggests he’s teaching through their unique details. For instance, both the traveler and the merchant find valuable things, but the pearl merchant knows and actively seeks out what he’s looking for in market after market, while the traveler stumbles upon his treasure. As Jesus says, both of these parable stories describe aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” he says.

Humanity seeks after Jesus and his Kingdom; some knowingly, but many without knowing. Some seek him everywhere and rejoice to find him. Others love truth, beauty, and goodness, and are surprised to find these in Christ in his Church. His parables tell us that when we find Jesus, he expects of us a total commitment, an all-in investment; that we would love and serve him more than all else, and that we would love everyone and everything in light of him. We do this especially by embracing and living out our vocation.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which he intends for you to become holy and a great blessing. Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road – stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is often true for marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love, delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together with or without much discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” as St. Paul says in our second reading, leading us to where he wants us even despite ourselves. If you are in the sacrament of marriage, your vocation is clear: your primary mission in life is to be the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead your spouse and children to Heaven. There will be other works to do and people to bless through your life, but your treasure is not to be found in different fields or shops; your means to holiness is already in your midst and in your grasp.

On the other hand, some people are still searching for their vocation, like the merchant for his pearl. One does not become a priest, a religious sister or brother, or a holy celibate person in the world without a firm commitment to live one’s life for God. To others, such a choice may seem crazy: “You won’t be happy! You’re throwing your life away! We want grandchildren!” And within ourselves, it’s possible to feel cold feet and doubts toward any real commitment in this life. (“What if… what if… what if?”) But when God calls us to our vocations, we will only possess the treasure or the pearl and the profit which come from them if we do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others. To find and embrace your vocation requires prayerful discernment, courage, and desire for what’s truly valuable, for what ever endures.

In today’s first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his high office, and says, “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request of wisdom for the benefit of the kingdom of God pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. Likewise, Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Pray to God for the wisdom to find your vocation and, having found it, to joyfully embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you have. In this way, you will come to possess treasure and the pearl of great price – Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.

Virtuous Thomas

July 14, 2020

Doubting Thomas — That is how the apostle is remembered since he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Upon seeing Jesus alive he professed, “My Lord and my God,” but the ignoble nickname endures. St. Thomas has just four quotes in the gospels, all of them found in John; his two other quotes reveal more of his character.

After Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples objected, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insists on going, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then later, Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Where I am going you know the way.” And Thomas relies, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?

From his four quotes we glimpse Thomas’ weakness and his strengths. He should have believed his friends’ testimony that they had indeed seen and touched and spoken with Jesus resurrected (especially after having witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead) but Thomas was lacking in trust. Yet at the same time, Thomas possesses great loyalty and courage.

Where is Thomas one week after Easter Sunday? The disciples are gathered in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus, and Thomas is right there with them. He could have chosen to retreat to someplace safer but he is loyal and brave and these virtues lead him to encounter the risen Christ.

We typically focus on our faults and flaws, on the vices and sins that hinder us. However we each possess virtues as well, areas where God has had success in us. Know and acknowledge these virtues, give thanks to God for them, and utilize them to grow. Pray for grace and use your strengths to lead you to perfect holiness like St. Thomas’ virtues led him to glory with Jesus Christ.

A Man for our Seasons

June 22, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 22nd is the feast day of St. Thomas More, one of my favorite saints. Back in 1929, the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” This prediction’s one hundred year anniversary arrives this decade. So who is St. Thomas More, what made him a martyr, and what lessons does he have for us today?

In 1509, the new eighteen-year-old Catholic King of England, Henry VIII, married a smart and extremely beautiful Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. Seventeen years later, King Henry, without a male heir, with his affections now shifted toward a mistress, began citing a passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus to argue that his marriage to Catherine was invalid and he asked the pope to annul his marriage. What happened thereafter is a story retold in my favorite movie, 1966’s Best Picture Winning film, A Man for All Seasons. That remarkable man for all seasons – adept in all circumstances – was St. Sir Thomas More.

A successful attorney, judge, diplomat, and statesman, Thomas More served in many official roles, including as Speaker of the British House of Commons. His brilliance is reflected by his witty quotes and writings. Four hundred ten English words have their invention (or at least their first-known appearances) from him, including the word “Utopia,” the title of his most famous book. A deeply devout Catholic, Thomas More had seriously considered becoming a monk, but instead discerned a call to marriage, family, and a career in public life. All these traits combined made him a great asset to the King. For instance, More once helped Henry VIII write a treatise in “Defense of the the Seven Sacraments” against Martin Luther’s errors for which the pope bestowed upon the king the title “Defender of the Faith.” The king trusted and admired Thomas More for years and appointed him to be the Lord Chancellor of England, a very high office. Then a season of great evil came to that land.

When King Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage the pope refused. What Henry sought would have been a divorce, and Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Henry continued petitioning, but the Holy Father’s refusal was steadfast against this king spurning his queen. In response, Henry divorced and remarried anyway and went on to assert his supremacy over and against the pope, declaring himself to be the leader of the Catholic Church throughout his realm. Henry then used the power of the state to make all his subjects fall into line. It became a crime to agree with the pope against the king and all public figures were required to swear oaths affirming the king’s supreme headship over the Church in England. Those who denied the king’s claims would be executed.

Thomas had resigned his office and withdrawn from public life because of and prior to the king’s illegitimate remarriage and Thomas did not attend the wedding ceremony. Thomas was not going to endorse, by his words or actions what he did not believe. The king’s remarriage was wrong, but Thomas hoped that by maintaining public silence he and his family would be left alone. However, the compelled oath affirming the king’s supremacy would no longer tolerate Thomas’ neutrality. The oath was evil. Jesus, from his own lips while on this earth, had entrusted the role of supreme governance of the Church to St. Peter and his successors, the popes. Thomas was absolutely resolved not to swear a false oath, for Jesus warns us, “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

When Thomas would not take the oath, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and was charged with high treason. Thomas, the brilliant expert of law and debate, put up a sound defense that under the law they had no grounds to punish him, but following evidently false testimony from an ambitious acquaintance who betrayed him, Thomas More, under this pretext, was found guilty. The condemned man then spoke out against the unchristian oath and the injustice being done, yet in closing he said this to his judges: “More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed apostle Saint Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now [both] holy saints in heaven and shall continue there friends forever: so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation.” At his beheading for being condemned as a traitor, at his martyrdom for being faithful to Christ and his Church, St. Thomas More spoke these words: “I die the king’s good servant and God’s first.”

Today, like willful King Henry VIII, much of our prevailing culture also wants things contrary to God’s will and Christ’s teachings. They declare that all who do not fully agree with them are evil and should be expelled, cancelled from society. And the powers of government, our courts and leaders, seem to be taking their side. Jesus said:

“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, no human being must separate.”

God made us male and female, he created marriage, all peoples and races share a common origin and dignity from him, and Christ was sent to save us all. Thus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, an adult female is a woman and an adult male is a man, no one should be judged for the color of their skin, and Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. These beliefs are not always popular, but ignoring these truths leads to pain and loss. The story of St. Thomas More shows us that public silence and private disagreement may not be tolerated by this world. Sooner or later, it may be demanded that you too either submit or suffer. At that time, and all times, remember: do not lie, never ever lie, and do not be a party to a lie.

Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In years past, this passage made me think of suffering Christians in the distant mission lands of Asia or Africa, where they are the vulnerable minority, or of how the Roman pagans persecuted the early Church. But who was Jesus referring to when he said “they persecuted the prophets who were before you”? Who persecuted the Jewish prophets in the Old Testament? It wasn’t so much the unbelieving pagans as the prophets’ own leaders and neighbors they were sent to, the people of God. Likewise, a Christian can easily become a betrayer or a passive party to evil if he or she does not resolve like St. Thomas More to live in the truth and stand with Christ no matter what.

Though Thomas More was clearly innocent, it took his twelve jurors only fifteen minutes to find him guilty. They were afraid. There were fifteen judges at his trial, many of whom had been his friends, but none of them were willing to defend him. They were all afraid too. The saint might have been saved if only one had stood firm instead of just standing by. The Church in England might not have collapsed if there had been more upright men like St. Thomas More. What we do in the time that is given us matters. Stand with him and the Lord will strengthen you like he did the Prophet Jeremiah. You may feel alone, but you won’t be, and Jesus Christ will be proud of you.

This stand may cost you dearly. Will it be worth it? Jesus tells us, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven.” So do not be afraid. Jesus says, “Fear no one.” Remember there is only One whose opinion ultimately matters. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” St. Thomas More said, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”

Last Friday evening, a statue of St. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan missionary to California, was pulled down and desecrated by about one hundred people in San Francisco. The police did nothing to stop them. Those people who did this probably believed false and horrible things about the saint, and that would be some encouragement except that many people believe false and terrible things about our Church today. Along this path it’s not hard to imagine Catholic churches being firebombed sooner or later. But remember, even if this happens, whatever may come, whatever persecution we may face, Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love God and everyone because it’s Christian love that saves. This is what Jesus Christ, St. Thomas More, and all the martyrs showed in their courageous words and actions. Let’s learn from them and imitate them in whatever seasons await us, and so come to share in the eternal reward of the Just in Christ’s Kingdom.

 

Jesus’ Longing for You

June 14, 2020

Corpus Christi Sunday—Year A

After the suspension in March, our parish went eleven weekends without the public celebration of Sunday Masses. Throughout Salvation History, the number forty symbolizes times of purification, preparation, and longing. For most people, being away meant about eighty days (forty twice over) without physically receiving our Eucharistic Lord. For many, their yearning for Jesus in the Eucharist has never been greater. Feast of Corpus Christi homily usually focus (quite fittingly) upon the Real Presence, the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity, alive in the Holy Eucharist. As St. Paul says in our second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” You are probably well-informed about this already; that’s why you have been longing for Him in the Eucharist. Today I feel moved to speak about Jesus Christ’s Eucharistic longing for you.

Jesus Christ’s desire for us is foreshadowed in the Old Testament; for instance, in The Song of Songs. There the beloved says of her spouse: “My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.’” Later this same man, prefiguring Christ, declares: “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride; … I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends; [and] drink!

In the Book of Proverbs, God’s personified wisdom speaks: “Let whoever is naive turn in here; to any who lack sense I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” The foolishness we must forsake is our sins, for what is freely-chosen sin if not harmful foolishness? Jesus seeks to bring about sinners’ salvation, in part, through drawing them to his meal, to share his presence, his food and drink. Jesus once responded to criticisms of his ministry saying: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

A Samaritan woman with many sins once asked Jesus, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” He answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Later, on the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up in the temple area and exclaimed: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” Before his miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread, Jesus called his disciples to himself and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” Jesus wants to feed us (we who have remained with him) as well, to strengthen us on our way. The food and drink Jesus desires you and I to receive are not mere objects for bodily sustenance — it is his very self. “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

At the Last Supper, which was the first Mass, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you… Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Jesus earnestly desires to share his feast, this Mass, to unite with us today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me.” Jesus is divine, but he’s also human. He dwells in Heaven, but he has human desires for you and me and our world. If you have yearned for Jesus in the Eucharist, if you have desired to receive him these past months, consider how much more Jesus Christ longs and desires for you.

Virtue in Obedience

June 11, 2020

According to likely tradition, St. Ignatius the bishop of Antioch learned about our Faith from St. John the Apostle. Around the year 110 A.D., St. Ignatius was brought by Roman guards from Syria to Rome for his martyrdom. On this long journey, he wrote seven famous letters which provide insight into the teachings and beliefs of the Early Church. In his letter to the Christians in Smyrna, he wrote:

See that you all follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery [priests] as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist which is administered either by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Catholic priests at ordination promise obedience to their bishop and his successors, but religious submission to one’s bishop-shepherd (in things which are not sinful) is Christ’s will for all the faithful. “Whoever hears you, hears me,” Jesus said, and “whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” “Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop,” St. Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, “in order that we may be subject to God.” Before he lost the kingdom, King Saul was told by the Prophet Samuel, “Obedience is better than sacrifice; to listen, better than the fat of rams.” The Lord delighted in obedience to his will more than in burnt offerings and animal sacrifices because holy obedience is a sacrifice of one’s own self.

Even the yoke of Christ remains a yoke. It’s natural to feel frustration at our gradual return to normal, towards the careful procedures our bishop has promulgated throughout our diocese to help protect against a still-deadly pandemic. These policies may prove overly cautious in retrospect—and I hope that is the case rather than seeing our safeguards prove tragically inadequate—but the will of Christ for you and I is to obey our God-ordained successor to the apostles. Blessed is that servant whom the Lord on his arrival finds doing so.

Love Languages — Funeral for Audrey Stoik, 84

June 3, 2020

On behalf of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, I offer you my condolences on the passing of Audrey, one of our well-known and well-loved parishoners. During this challenging time, for you who know and love Audrey best and for everyone in our country, I am pleased and honored that we can offer this public funeral Mass for her soul and for yours’.

Have you ever heard of The Five Love Languages? They were first presented under that title in a 1992 book of the same name. The premise of the Five Love Languages is that we express and receive some forms of love more readily than other forms, and that different individuals tend to prefer differing love languages over others. What are these five general categories of love? They are: Gift Giving, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Affectionate Touch, & Acts of Service. What are your favorite love languages? Perhaps later you can try guessing the favorites of the people in your lives. The reason I mention all of this is because particular love languages came to my mind as I heard multiple stories about Audrey.

Her top two love languages seemed to be Gift Giving & Acts of Service. For example, when Audrey prepared meals for her family, she was loving them through both service and gifts. I’m told you never left her house without receiving something: cookies, brownies, muffins, potato dumplings, caramel popcorn, French dressing, or something else. If you asked something of her, whether it be making dozens of cookies for your wedding or making flip flops for the graduation class, she would get it done. The many afghan blankets she weaved and gifted continue to warm homes and families. Audery, even through trials, cared for nine children and her husband. In nine years, she and Frank had eight of their nine kids. She sacrificed for them all in many ways, for instance, driving a manual transmission milk truck through the countryside to the dairies to make some extra money for the family. One day, she delivered milk in the morning and delivered one of her children in the afternoon.

What is the source of such sacrificial love? What is the power empowering self-gifting love? That source and power why we are gathered here today for Audrey, rather than somewhere else. As St. Paul’s writes, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” That is service and gift. And Jesus not only died for us, but rose from the dead before us, and calls each of us to follow him. Jesus declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Whenever we come to God’s house, he wants us to come as his true family, true friends. This first requires our true conversion but Jesus desires we never have us leave his house without receiving a precious gift; the food of a meal and sacrifice which is his very Self. By the Holy Eucharist at Mass, Jesus loves us using all five love languages together:

Words:  “This is my body, given up for you.”
Time:  “Could you not [stay] one hour with me?”
Touch:  He places himself into our hands.
Service:  He offers himself up for us.
Gift:  He gives himself to us as a gift.

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. When we approach God, in intimacy and likeness, we approach through him. So do not let your hearts be troubled. Audrey’s love reflects Christ’s love and our saving Lord has been its source.

How They All Went Wrong

May 3, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter—Year A

Why did Satan rebel against God?
Why did Judas betray Jesus?
Why did Peter deny the Lord three times?
The underlying answer is important for our present lives.

Why did the Devil rebel? Though mysterious, it seems that this angel proudly desired a greater “glory” than was found in God’s hierarchy. To be God without God. This was his suggestion in tempting our first parents; “you will be like gods”. Satan, being the most powerful of the demons, rules a fallen kingdom apart from goodness, truth, and God.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? It might have been for the money; thirty pieces of silver was about five weeks of wages and St. John the Apostle reports that Judas “was a thief and held the [apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Yet St. Matthew writes that when Judas saw Jesus condemned he deeply regretted what he had done and returned the money to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Perhaps Judas never intended the Lord to die but had hoped that Jesus, with his back against the wall, would finally wield his mighty, miraculous powers to claim David’s earthly kingdom (and hand Judas himself a privileged place within it.) Yet Judas’ dishonest and disloyal scheming left him with nothing.

Why did Simon Peter deny the Lord three times during the Passion? St. John’s Gospel suggests he lied about having any connection to Jesus first to gain entry into the courtyard of the high priest, then to keep from being tossed out, and finally to avoid being physically assaulted by a relative of the man whose ear he had severed with a sword earlier that evening in the garden. St. Luke tells us that Peter, when he then heard a rooster crow, “went out and began to weep bitterly” over what he had done.

Satan, Judas, and Peter chose sin because they thought wrongdoing was the way to good things they would not otherwise have. But this is not Jesus’ way. In our second reading St. Peter writes of the Lord, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He was “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” In our Gospel, Jesus declares:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. … Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.

Jesus is our gate. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Always come and go through this narrow gate, for many prefer to bypass it like thieves and robbers. “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Jesus’ sheep know his voice and are called to uncompromisingly follow it. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The words of a Jewish proverb pray to God:

Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

In our present season of trial, the complacency of riches has withdrawn but other temptations draw near. This is a time of testing. Will I tell lies? Will I steal? Will I sin to possess or enjoy good things I might not otherwise have? Do not give in, do not compromise, do not capitulate to evil. This is Christ’s will for you. Remember and be resolved: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

But what if you do go on to fall, or what if you have already sinned? What then should you do? Due to their nature, the demons will never adjust their wills towards repentance. Judas deeply regretted what he had done but he despaired of forgiveness and forfeited his life. St. Peter however returned, repented, and renewed his devotion to his Savior. (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”) St. John assures us about Christ, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The commandments of Christ flow from his own divine nature — total truth, pure goodness, perfect love — and these must not be spurned. Yet realize that the essence of Christianity is not rules or laws but a personal relationship: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Follow the Good Shepherd faithfully and goodness and kindness will follow all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Divinely Merciful

April 18, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Cenacle, the Upper Room in Jerusalem,
site of the Last Supper and Pentecost

Imagine an event as it did not happen…

On Easter evening, when the disciples were gathered behind locked doors in the Upper Room, Jesus came and appeared in their midst and said to them, “I condemn you. Each of you. All of you abandoned me.” And when he had said this, he showed the wounds in his hands and feet and side and said, “I suffered these because of your sins.”

If Jesus would have declared such things to his apostles his charges would not have been untrue. But this is thankfully not what Jesus did. Instead, he came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you,” a phrase he says three times in this Sunday’s gospel. Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection are not for our condemnation. Jesus comes in mercy for his apostles and for us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Peter writes, “who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

After assuring them of his friendship and the reality of his Resurrection, the next most important item on Jesus’ Easter list is to entrust his Church with his mission of mercy: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In this season of pandemic, public Masses are suspended; first Communions, Confirmations, and weddings are being postponed; but the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to be offered. Did you get to Confession this Lent? Jesus has peace to give you in this great sacrament. So, where and when you can, make it a top item on your list to experience his Divine Mercy there.

The Questions & Answers of Easter Vigil

April 11, 2020

Easter Vigil

Tonight’s Easter Vigil Mass features many readings and accompanying psalms. The Church says the celebrant may chose to skip some of these readings, but tonight we are doing them all; seven from the Old Testament and two from the New, a journey from Genesis to the Gospel. But how does one preach about nine readings in one homily? As I pondered that question, I wondered, “What questions are asked in the readings themselves?

In the beginning in Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth, there are no questions, only God’s declaring word. Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. God looked at everything he had made and they were very good. From the beginning, God knows his plan.

By the time of our next reading from Genesis, sin has entered our history. Humanity’s rejection of God, reflected in every sin, not only leads to death but creates injustices which must be rectified, hearts which must be converted, relationships which must be reconciled, and evils which must be undone, through sacrifice. “Father!” Isaac says, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.

Isaac was spared but would God always provide? Generations later, Moses and the Hebrews are alarmed on the shores of the Red Sea when Pharaoh’s army threatens them. The Lord says to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.” God delivers his people, destroys their enemy, and leads them to his Promised Land.

How great is God’s love for his people? Isaiah proclaims that the Lord loves and desires Israel as a man does his bride: “The One who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts.” Yet Israel would often stray from him. Elsewhere Isaiah asks her, “Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Later the Prophet Baruch asks, “How is it, Israel, that you are in the land of your foes, grown old in a foreign land, defiled with the dead, accounted with those destined for the netherworld? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!” Baruch asks “who has found the place of wisdom, who has entered into her treasuries? The One who knows all things knows her; he has probed her by his knowledge—the One who established the earth….

Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord promises to bring his people to their true home, to wisdom, to holiness, to communion with himself: “I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

How is all this to come about? Through Jesus Christ. St. Paul asks the Romans, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

When Jesus Christ was so shockingly, so horrifically, so unjustly murdered, his heartbroken disciples were full of questions. Is there no reward for the just man? Is there no victory for righteousness? Is evil more powerful than goodness? Is God indifferent to our suffering? Does he not care? Is there no deliverance from sin? Do we have any reason to hope? God answers with Christ’s empty tomb.

Do not be afraid,” the angel says. “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” The women, fearful yet overjoyed, run to share this good news when they encounter Jesus on the way. They approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. Then Jesus says to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

This was God’s plan from the beginning. That sin would be conquered through self-offering. That all would trust in God’s providence and love the perfect Bridegroom. Why spend yourself on what does not satisfy? Why live any longer away from the Lord in foolishness? You have access to a new and transforming Holy Spirit through your baptism, a baptism which has its power from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is God’s answer to our greatest questions. How will you respond to him? Answer with your faith and love.

Tips to be Better Prepared

March 31, 2020

Since February 20th, I have encouraged parishioners to be well-prepared for disaster in both body and soul. This post offers some advice on how to be better materially-ready to face this pandemic.

Statistical models from The University of Washington predict U.S. Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths to peak nationally around April 15th and to peak in Wisconsin around April 27th. Our home state looks like it will fare better than most, but the worst of this crisis still remains ahead of us.

To prepare for this pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security recommends:

  • Storing-up additional supplies of food and water.
  • Periodically checking your prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Having nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand (including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins).
  • Obtaining copies and maintaining electronic versions of your health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other sources and storing them for personal reference.
  • Talking with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they get sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.

DHS also urges social distancing; washing your hands with soap or sanitizer; covering your coughs and sneezes; not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; avoiding people who are sick; and practicing healthy habits.

I also personally recommend these steps (for the unlikely possibility of power or water outages):

  • Storing-up nonperishable food items.
  • Filling spare bathtubs or containers with water, or at least remembering that your water heater and toilet tops contain fresh water.
  • Keeping some extra cash money on hand.
  • And, if running low, filling-up your car’s gas tank. (Though be careful with your hands in touching the pump and nozzle.)

If you need to visit the pharmacy to fill a prescription, call ahead and they may be willing and able to bring out your order to your car and drop it through your passenger side window.

Since, according to the World Health Organization, temperatures of 140° to 150° Fahrenheit are enough to kill most viruses, your oven may be used to sanitize things like mail, documents, or money. (Note however, while paper famously burns at 451°F, some plastics melt at temperatures as low as 165°F.)

God bless and be well.

Why Jesus Wept

March 28, 2020

5th Sunday of Lent—Year A

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus weep on his way to Lazarus’ tomb? Was it because he had only just learned of his dear friend Lazarus’ death? No, for Jesus had known long before he reached the village. He had already told his disciples, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” Did Jesus weep because he had not planned to immediately resurrect Lazarus until sorrow changed his mind? No, for when the news of Lazarus’ sickness first arrived he told his disciples, “This illness is not to end in death,” and two days later he added, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” Were Jesus’ tears in fact not shed for Lazarus at all?

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if I informed you of two facts (about which, let’s suppose, you would have zero doubts): first, that someone you love had recently died — but also, that twenty minutes from now, this same person would be completely alive and healthy, living among us again. How long and profoundly would you mourn for this person? I do not weep over my friends and family going to sleep at night because I believe they will be fully awake again in the morning. Why would Jesus cry for someone he was about to resurrect? But if Jesus was not grieving over the very-soon-to-be-resurrected Lazarus, then why did Jesus weep?

When Mary ran to Jesus and fell at his feet crying, was there a hurt reproach in her voice when she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (‘We sent you a message days ago that our brother was very ill. Why didn’t you save him?‘) Some of the Jews who came to comfort Martha and Mary seemed to doubt Jesus’ care or power. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” When Jesus saw Mary weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled. Jesus beholds grave anguish, doubt, and despair amidst the faith-testing scandal of death. And because of this, Jesus wept.

On Friday, in the midst of our worldwide pandemic, Pope Francis preached a message of hope in a rainy, dark, and empty St. Peter’s Square. He reflected on another gospel story where facing death challenged peoples’ faith in the love and power of the Lord: Jesus is asleep in the boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee and his disciples wake him up and ask him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” In the words of Pope Francis:

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he [is] in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. (…)

Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

What We Should Do Now

March 25, 2020

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


What would it be like to be visited by an angel? Scripture tells us “some [people] have unknowingly entertained angels,” like Gideon or Tobiah, because angels can appear on earth in human disguise. But if you ever saw an angel in unveiled glory this spiritual creature would not be a winged Precious Moments character like some people imagine. As C.S. Lewis writes in the preface of his book The Screwtape Letters:

In the plastic arts [the symbolic representations of angels] have steadily degenerated. Fra Angelico’s angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish and consolatory angels of nineteenth-century art… They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying “Fear not.” The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say “There, there.

When the Archangel Gabriel came and greeted the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, “she was greatly troubled.” He must calm and reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” His message from Heaven is a weighty and mysterious one: you shall conceive and bear the Messiah, the Christ, who is both the heir to David’s kingdom and the Son of Almighty God. Mary has apparently made a prior vow to remain a virgin within her current marriage to Joseph, for she questions how she would ever conceive apart from relations with a man. Gabriel explains this will be through the power of God, for whom all things are possible. Even this answer leaves a great deal unrevealed.

It’s natural for Mary to feel anxious. She has heard God’s promises but much remains uncertain for her near and distant future: Will Joseph believe her? How should she parent such a Holy Child? How will Jesus become king? What will happen to her? How long or difficult will her life be? God’s full plan is unknown to Mary, but she knows what to do for that moment. She says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Through this faithful, trusting response, Jesus Christ saves his Church, the Virgin Mary becomes the Most Blessed, and every generation is blessed.

It’s natural to feel anxious now. We have received God’s promises but much remains uncertain about our near and distant future. Follow Mary’s example and entrust your life to God’s will, so that you may be the most blessed and a great multitude may be blessed through you.