Archive for the ‘Hope’ Category

Theological Gifts & Obligations — Tuesday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time

July 15, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! … For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

In the visitation of Jesus Christ, Chorazin and Bethsaida had advantages that no people before them had ever enjoyed. The Word of God was before them, but they did not accept him. Incarnate love was among them, but they did not embrace him. The hope of the world was in their midst, but they did not change their ways.

Consider how much more understanding we have of Christ and his teachings than they, how much we have experienced the love of Christ and his people, how many prophesies of Christ we have seen fulfilled. How much more cause do we have to respond to him with faith, hope, and love; how much more of an obligation. As St. Bonaventure said:

“Three things are necessary to everyone regardless of status, sex, or age, i.e., truth of faith which brings understanding; love of Christ which brings compassion; endurance of hope which brings perseverance. No adult is in the state of salvation unless he has faithful understanding in his mind, loving compassion in his heart, and enduring perseverance in his actions.”


Peter & Judas — Wednesday, 14th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

July 11, 2014

Judas Iscariot and the chief priests and elders at the temple, their money on the floor.Readings: Hosea 10, Matthew 10:1-7

The names of the Twelve Apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter,  … and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.

What was the difference between Peter and Judas? Both were full-fledged apostles (although the Gospels always list the twelve apostles with Peter first and Judas last, much like how the Lord’s Prayer begins with “our Father” and ends with “the Evil One/evil.”) Was the difference that Peter believed Jesus was a good man and Judas did not? No, for Judas said after betraying Jesus, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Was the difference that Judas was a sinner and Peter was not? No, for at one of their first encounters, Peter “fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.'” In the Passion, Judas betrayed Jesus and while Peter denied him three times beside the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard. The vital difference between Peter and Judas was in their ultimate responses to their sins.

Judas fled and fell into utter despair. Like those in our first reading who “cry out to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall upon us,’ Judas welcomed dark oblivion. After the resurrection, when Peter was fishing in his boat, Jesus appeared on the shore. Though Peter was lightly clad, he did not run and hide like Adam and Eve in shame, but swam to Jesus enthusiastically. At that second charcoal fire, Peter professed three times that he loved Jesus.

Let us follow Peter’s example rather than that of Judas and encounter Jesus in the confessional. For those who love Christ, hope in Christ, seek Christ, and run to Christ, will find his mercy.

Stained Glass Symbols — The Anchor

January 28, 2014

AAnchor - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WI Symbol of Hope

An anchor keeps a ship safely in its proper place, despite powerful waves and winds. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says of hope: “This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm” (Hebrews 6:19). If we have hope in Christ, hope in the good things he has promised, then we will be anchored securely against currents and storms in our lives.

Looking Forward to Heaven — 2nd Sunday of Lent—Year C

March 3, 2013

In Genesis, God promises descendants and a land to Abraham.  However, Abraham and his wife are very old, and Abraham feels uncertainty about whether they will have children. Therefore, God says to Abraham: “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you can. So shall your descendants be.” You may imagine this happening at night, but perhaps God has Abraham look during the day. We cannot see the stars in the daylight, but we know that they are there. Likewise, God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled even though Abraham cannot see it.

Like Abraham, we hope in God’s promises about things we cannot see. While Abraham wants to have children so that his legacy continues, we want eternal life. He hopes that his descendants someday get the Promised Land. We hope for the Promised Land of Heaven. I think we should feel hope in these things more.

In the Gospel, Peter is euphoric about seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah and says something very silly. “Master, it is good for us to stay here and build three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” How could Moses and Elijah prefer to live in tents on a mountain top on earth rather than return to paradise? Yet, sometimes we behave like our greatest hope isn’t heaven but to live here on earth forever.

Saint Paul says about sinners:  “… Just think of earthly things. We, however, are citizens of heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body… ” We all have a natural fear of death, and this is healthy and good. And we feel sad when persons depart from us, and this is understandable. But we should look forward to going to heaven. We should feel at least as much excitement about going to heaven as we would in winning an around-the-world vacation.

Have you encountered beauty here on earth? There is greater glory in heaven. Have you felt happiness and contentment here? There is overflowing joy in heaven. Have you known love? Every person loves perfectly in heaven. Which friends and family do you want to see again in heaven? Which saints or angels do you want to meet there? What will it be like to see Jesus face to face? Reflect on these things, and let this hope inspire you.

En el Génesis, Dios promete descendientes y una tierra a Abraham. Sin embargo, Abraham y su esposa son muy viejo, y Abraham se siente incertidumbre acerca de si van a tener hijos. Por lo tanto, Dios le dice a Abraham: “Mira el cielo y cuenta las estrellas, si puedes. Así sera tu descendencia.” Usted puede imaginar que esto ocurra por la noche, pero tal vez Dios ha Abraham mirar durante el día. No podemos ver las estrellas en la luz del día, pero sabemos que están ahí. Del mismo modo, las promesas de Dios a Abraham se cumplirá aunque Abraham no lo puede ver.

Como Abraham, esperamos que en las promesas de Dios acerca de cosas que no podemos ver. Mientras Abraham quiere tener hijos, para que su legado continúa, queremos la vida eterna. Él espera que sus descendientes algún día obtener a la Tierra Prometida. Esperamos que recibimos la tierra prometida de los Cielos. Creo que deberíamos sentir esperanza en estas cosas más.

En el Evangelio, Pedro es eufórico de ver a Jesús con Moisés y Elías y le dice algo muy tonto: “Maestro, sería bueno que nos quedarámos aquí y hiciéramos tres chozas: una para ti, una para Moisés y otra para Elías” sin saber lo que decía. ¿Cómo pudo Moisés y Elías prefieren vivir en tiendas de campaña en la cima de una montaña en la tierra en lugar de regresar al paraíso? Sin embargo, a veces nos comportamos como nuestra mayor esperanza no es el cielo sino a vivir aquí en la tierra para siempre.

San Pablo dice acerca de los pecadores: “…Sólo piensan en cosas de la tierra. Nosotros, en cambio, somos ciudadanos del cielo, de donde esperamos que venga nuestro salvador, Jesucristo. El transformará nuestro cuerpo miserable en un cuerpo glorioso, semejante al suyo…” Todos tenemos un temor natural de la muerte, y esto es sano y bueno. Y nos sentimos tristes cuando las personas salen de nosotros, y esto es comprensible. Pero debemos mirar hacia adelante para ir al cielo. Debemos sentir excitación cerca de ir al cielo como ganar unas vacaciones alrededor del mundo.

¿Se ha encontrado la belleza aquí en la tierra? Hay una mayor gloria en el cielo. ¿Se ha sentido la felicidad en la tierra? Hay mas alegría en el cielo. ¿Ha conocido el amor? Cada persona ama perfectamente en el cielo. ¿Lo que amigos y familiares qué quieres volver a ver en el cielo? ¿Que los santos y ángeles te quiero conocer allí? ¿Qué se sentiría al ver a Jesús cara a cara? Reflexiona sobre estas cosas que esta esperanza os inspire.

Parables About Jesus — Monday, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 26, 2011

Jesus speaks of Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) more times in the Gospel than perhaps anything else. But what is this kingdom? The Kingdom dwells among us when God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. The Kingdom reigns wherever the will of God is known and followed. His Kingdom is not equally present at all times and everywhere, which is why we pray for the kingdom to fully come, yet it can be present within a good community, in a loving family, or within a Christian’s soul.

Jesus leads us into the Kingdom of God. He teaches us how to live as kingdom people. There’s an interesting twist contained in Jesus’ teachings: whenever He speaks about the kingdom of God, He is usually teaching us something true about Himself. This is so, because Jesus is the kingdom incarnate. Wherever Jesus is, you find the Kingdom, and wherever the Kingdom is, Jesus is there.

Because of this close identification between Jesus and the Kingdom, we can substitute between these terms and reread Scripture with new eyes. For example, “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea saying, ‘Repent, for (Jesus Christ) is at hand!’” The beatitude becomes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is (Jesus Christ).” One time, when Jesus sees how his disciples are shooing the little children away, He becomes indignant and says to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for (I) belong to such as these.” And we hear it said, “Seek ye first (Jesus Christ) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” When applied to today’s Gospel, Jesus three parables become revelatory of Jesus Himself.

Jesus is like a treasure buried in a field. This means that Jesus must be found. In the movie Forrest Gump, a down-in-the-dumps Lt. Dan Taylor asks Forrest derisively, “Have you found Jesus, Gump?” Forrest replies, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him, Sir.” If I ask you if you’ve found Jesus you might feel like a bit Forrest; you’re baptized, you’re here at church, how could you still need to find him?

Well, think of it this way: do you have a joy and excitement in your relationship with Christ anything like a man who finds a hidden treasure? Does you life feel rich and full of opportunity because you know Him? If not, then you have not yet found Him like He wants you too. We need to seek after Him in prayer and learning. Encounter Him in the Gospels, especially if you never have before. (Do you want to reach the end of your days without ever having read the Gospels?) Jesus is a rich treasure whom we must seek out and discover.

The second parable: Jesus is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. (Notice that Jesus was first the treasure, now He’s the searcher.) This means that Jesus searches after us. We should not despair. He pursues more passionately than a man searching a profit. Jesus seeks us as a man in love. A pearl may get dirty and think it is no longer desirable, but Jesus has the solution for cleansing pearls. He emptied Himself of glory to become man for us, and then he gave everything He had to die as a man for us. Do not forget that if we were the only sinner on earth He would have still come for you. Never despair. Jesus will always pursue you like a man in love.

In the third and final parable, Jesus is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. This means that Jesus confronts us all. As Simenon foretold of The baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Hi to the temple, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” The truth of Jesus Christ confronts all people, even if they’ve never heard the name of Jesus. But we have heard His name, and we must not put off responding to Him forever.

Jesus is the treasure we must seek. We must not despair, for Jesus relentlessly seeks after us. Jesus is the net who confronts us all, so we must not put Him off forever.

Prayers Gradually Answered — Wednesday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 16, 2011

Noah’s Ark was no cruise ship, and forty days and nights on stormy waters is no pleasure cruise. Imagine what it was like for Noah; shoveling food for the animals all morning, shoveling something else all afternoon; hearing the squawking of the animals all night, hearing the complaints of your family all day. Noah must have been praying hard for land. He sends out a raven and it doesn’t come back. He sends out a dove and it brings back with a twig. After sending out the dove again they finally make landfall. Noah’s prayer was fulfilled in a gradual way, just like Jesus healed the blind man of today’s gospel in stages.

Sometimes we get impatient and question when our prayers for ourselves and others are not answered immediately, but we should not lose hope.  But remember, slow, gradual progress doesn’t mean that God’s plan is not being fulfilled. And just because you’re not instantly healed doesn’t mean that your prayer for healing is not being answered.

Have A Holy Halloween!—31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

October 31, 2010

Have you ever noticed how our Christian holidays get filled with stuff that distracts us from what we’re really celebrating? Take Christmas, for example. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging gifts and decorating with tress and lights, but there is good reason in that season that we need be reminded, to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” For many people, celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace on earth is the most stressful time of the year. Or consider Easter: There’s nothing wrong with chocolate bunnies and hunting for Easter eggs, but the connection between egg-laying rabbits and Jesus’ resurrection is tenuous at best.

However, this disconnection between Christian holy days and the cultural observance of holidays is the greatest when it comes to Halloween. There’s nothing wrong with kids playing dress-up and going door-to-door to ask for candy, (I have many happy memories of this myself,) but Halloween’s connection to its Christian holy day seems to have been forgotten. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” or the evening before All Saint’s Day. Something is “Hallowed” when it is sanctified or respected, as in, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day celebrates the “hallowed” ones, the holy ones, the saints who are now in Heaven. Some of these saints are canonized, but most of them are not.

For every friend and relative we knew on earth who is now in Heaven, November 1st is their feast day in the Church. And for our holy dead who are still being purified and made perfect so that they may enter the fully-unveiled presence of our infinite God, there is November 2nd, the Feast of All Souls. In this fall season, when the natural world appears dying, our Church celebrates the holy dead, for we have hope in the new life.

Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve,” is to All Saints Day what Christmas Eve is to Christmas. As Christmas Eve reminds us of Christ’s coming, so Halloween should remind us of the victory of the saints, and of our own life’s calling: to become the best possible versions of ourselves, to become saints.

I think it is in no way an overreaction to observe that the secular observance of Halloween has overtones in dark, demonic things; the things of horror. Isn’t it suspicious that from a feast celebrating the saints in light, we have a secularized holiday focused on things of darkness? Instead of Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead, Halloween gives us images of zombies. Instead of the consolation that we are surrounded by the perfected souls of the saints, who love us and are full of concern to help us, Halloween gives us tales of ghosts and demons who want to harm and scare us. How does this sort of thing happen? I don’t think it is crazy to think that the Evil One wants to distract people from the true reason for this season; that the Devil would have us thinking about him, rather than the saints, that he wants us to be terrified, rather than full of hope.

Did you know that this Sunday, Satanic worshipers will come to Masses and Catholic Churches around the country trying to steal our Lord in the Eucharist? (Interestingly, they don’t go after the communions of Protestant denominations, but only the Catholic Eucharistic Hosts.) Their plan is to desecrate Jesus in a ritual they call a Black Mass. In doing this they are trying to rebel, seeking a false freedom that cannot make them happy. They try to harm Jesus, but only hurt Him in as much as they sadden Him. These sad people, who strike out at Jesus, are really hurting themselves and the Jesus still loves them. We know that the Lord loves every person He has made, for as the first reading notes, if the Lord did not love His creations, they would not continue to exist. As we see in today’s gospel about Zacchaeus the sinful tax-collector, there is hope for them and all of us, for Jesus “has come to seek and to save what was lost,” and He calls every one of us to be happy and holy with Him.

This Halloween, let us pray for the misguided persons, who knowingly or unknowingly, will dabble in bad things tonight, that they may turn to Christ. Let also offer Jesus our consolation for how the feelings of His Sacred Heart will be wounded by their offenses against His love. And for ourselves, let us try celebrating Halloween in some different ways this year.

Maybe everyone in your household already has their trick-or-treat costumes ready (but I know it can sometimes be a last minute decision.) If you’re still looking for costume ideas, how about dressing up as an awesome saint? Saint costumes can be easy and very creative. Dressing like this delights the saints (and it will probably score you more candy.)

Does your family have a patron saint? If not, then pick one this Halloween and entrust your family to them for the year ahead. Print off their picture from the internet and put it on the wall, learn about them as a family, and pray to them, asking that they pray for you. (I, for myself, am choosing St. John Vianney this year; the patron saint of priests and a good guy to know.) Great saints are waiting, just waiting, to grow in friendship with you.

This year, make it a point to celebrate the vigils and feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Our family and friends who are now in Heaven or on their way there expect us to be joyful on these feast days in their honor, and there is not better place for us on earth to draw near to them than here, around the altar of Jesus Christ.

Christ is the Light who shines through the darkness. This Halloween, let us claim the night for Jesus Christ and His saints.

The Joyful Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 28, 2010

The 1st Joyful Mystery: 
The Annunciation

The Blessed Virgin Mary may have been just 13 years old when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would give birth to Jesus. She shows us that even if you are young, God can still do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him.

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children were praying the rosary after lunch in a field on a clear blue day.  The eldest was Lucia, age 10, and she was with her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, ages eight and seven. Suddenly, they saw two bright flashes. They looked up and saw “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun…” The Lady smiled and said, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you.” Lucia asked her where she came from. The Lady pointed to the sky and said, “I come from heaven.” Lucia asked what she wanted. The Lady said, “I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour.”

On July 13, the incredibly beautiful Lady appeared again. Lucia asked her who she was, and for a miracle so everyone would believe. The Lady answered, “Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.” Then she taught them this prayer: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy.”

At noon, on October 13, 1917, some 70,000 people were gathered in the field. With a flash of light, the Lady appeared to the children and declared, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Some spectators cried out and the crowd turned their eyes upward to the cloudless sky, and they gazed on the sun without the least discomfort.  They saw it tremble and danced in a miraculous way.

Mary, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta teach us this lesson: Even if you are young, God can do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him. Let us pray that we would be open to doing God’s will every day.

The 2nd Joyful Mystery:
The Visitation

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” (Luke 1)

Imagine how St. Elizabeth must have felt to have Mary, Mother of God, walk in through her door. Elizabeth could not see the tiny Jesus, a fetus in Mary’s womb, but she was convinced that He was hidden there. How would you treat someone if you knew that Jesus was hidden inside of them?

Blessed Mother Theresa cared for the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, India. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous health problems, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. How did she do it? She could do it because she encountered her beloved Christ both in times of prayer and in the people she cared for. Mother Teresa remembered Jesus’ words, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mother Teresa loved others as if they were the Lord Himself.

Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Elizabeth teach us this lesson: Jesus is present in your classmates here at school, so you should always be welcoming and loving toward them. Let us pray for the grace to love others in this way.

The 3rd Joyful Mystery:
The Nativity

In his youth, Francis had been quite rich, the son of a wealthy merchant, yet he sensed that there was more to life. He put his former life behind him and devoted himself to following Christ. One day, at Mass, the Gospel told of how Christ’s disciples were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor traveling items, but were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and as soon as Mass was over he threw away what little he had and went forth at once, exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. He was poor, but clearly happy, and others were attracted to join his movement. By the time of his death, hundreds had joined his religious order. On October 3, 1226, St. Francis died a penniless, but happy man. 

St. Francis of Assisi loved Christmas.  In fact, one story tells of how he petitioned the Holy Roman Emperor to make an edict that grain and bread should be provided to birds, beasts, and the poor this day, so that all God’s creatures would have occasion to rejoice in the Lord. St. Francis also invented the Christmas tradition of making a model of the nativity scene. These nativity scenes, called Crèches, remind us that even though Christ was rich in Heaven, he became poor when he was born on earth in a barn. Yet, Jesus was a happy man, despite his poverty.

Jesus and St. Francis teach us this lesson: You do not need to be wealthy in order to be happy. Let us pray that we may be content and happy with the riches that we have.

The 4th Joyful Mystery: 
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

In the year that Jesus was born, “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout” and he longed to see the Messiah who would save God people. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would indeed see the Christ before he died and Simeon trusted and hoped in that promise.

One day, the Spirit inspired him to come into the temple. When he say Mary and Joseph carrying in the baby Jesus to offer a sacrifice for Him, Simeon “took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’” (Luke 2)

What are the promises the Lord has made to us?  Do we trust and hope in these promises? Simeon teaches us this lesson: That we ought to trust and hope in the Lord’s promises, for all of them will be fulfilled in the sight of all someday.

The 5th Joyful Mystery:
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This is a true story, the story of a Catholic mother of three whose oldest son joined an anti-Catholic religious cult. It started him down a path of sinful pride and many sensual sins. It broke her heart and for years she prayed tearful prayers for his conversion.

She even asked the bishop to intervene in winning over her son. He counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” When she persisted in asking, the bishop (perhaps busy with many other things) famously reassured her: “Go now, I beg you; it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

That mother was St. Monica, and that son of hers, who was lost and found, was the great St. Augustine. Sts. Monica and Augustine teach us this lesson: that your persistent prayer can help people to find Christ. Let us pray for someone that we know, that he or she may be drawn closer to Jesus Christ.

On Fatima
On St. Francis
On Blessed Mother Teresa

Job’s Desolation — Tuesday, 26th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

September 28, 2010

The sadness of Job is like a heavy stone hanging from his neck.

In his pain, he seems to forget that he is surrounded by people who care about him very much. When Job’s friends learn of his misfortune they come to him. For days and nights they sit with Job, listening, not saying a word, yet saying a great deal by just being there. He is not alone.

In his despair, Job imagines that his life will never get better. Yet he cannot see the future. The Lord is going to bless Job and happiness will return to him.

In his darkness, Job wishes he were dead. He asks, “Why did I not perish at birth?” Yet death is not the way. When the Samaritans rejected Jesus, James and John asked to rain down fire, but Jesus rebuked them for it. As long as there is life, there is hope, for the Samaritans, and for us.

How wrong it is if we mistake death for the way of peace, for that is not Christ’s answer. How wrong it is if we imagine that we will never be happy again, for sun’s light shines beyond our horizon or behind the clouds, even if we cannot see it. And how wrong it is if we forget that people care about us, for each of us here is loved more than we know.

Rabbi Gamaliel’s Wisdom — Friday, 2nd Week of Easter

April 16, 2010

The apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council, to be questioned for why they continued to teach in “that name.” At hearing the apostles’ answers, the Jewish leaders “became infuriated and wanted to put them to death,” but a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin stood up and had the apostles put outside. This was Gamaliel, a great teacher of the law who was respected by all the people. (It was at this rabbi’s feet that St. Paul received his Pharisaical training.)

Gamaliel said, “Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men.” Now his form of address here is interesting and revealing. He could have addressed his peers in the Sanhedrin in many different ways, but by calling them “fellow children of Israel” he recalls Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) and his twelve sons.

Now of all those sons, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. This made the others so jealous that they sold Joseph into slavery. But through suffering this dishonor Joseph would go on to become the instrument of their salvation. Even though they meant to destroy him, they failed. God intended this for good, to achieve the salvation of many.

Gamaliel concluded his speech to the Sanhedrin wisely observing, “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them…”

Evil endeavors or activities are destroyed in time. But what is of God endures, even if it is sometimes setback by evil and sins. In these beleaguering times, for our country, for our Church, and for our pope, this lesson from Rabbi Gamaliel gives us good reason for hope.

August 27 – St. Monica

August 27, 2009

Today I would like to tell you a true story, the story of a Catholic woman in a very difficult marriage to a non-Christian husband. Her husband was a man with a hot temper and hostility towards Christianity. He was unfaithful in their marriage, but she remained faithful to him—not out of weakness, but out of an inner-strength.

She bore his faults with patience and persistently sought after his conversion. The daily example of her gentleness and kindness finally had its victory. Her husband became a Christian one year before his death. However, the year after that, she had to face a new burden alone.

The oldest of her three children joined an anti-Catholic religious cult. It started him down a path of sinful pride and many sensual sins. It broke her heart. Then one night, she had a dream.

She was standing on top of a wooden ruler, and she saw a young man coming towards her, surrounded by a glorious halo. Although she felt sad and full of grief, the young man smiled at her joyfully. He asked her for the reason for her sadness and daily tears. (This wasn’t because he didn’t know, but because he had something to tell her—this is the way things happen in visions.) When she answered that her tears were for the lost soul of her son he told her to take heart for, if she looked carefully, she would see that where she was, there also was he. And when she looked, she saw her son standing beside her on the same ruler. Reassured by this dream she continued, for years to come, praying tearful prayers for his conversion.

She even asked the bishop to intervene in winning over her son. He counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” When she persisted in asking, the bishop (perhaps busy with many other things) famously reassured her: “Go now, I beg you; it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

That son, as you may have guessed by now, was the great St. Augustine. And his mother is St. Monica. May her story encourage us to pray and strive for the conversion of our loved ones to the Catholic faith. Remember and take hope: God loves us with a human heart and He cares about your loved ones even more than you do.

Wednesday, 21st Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 27, 2009

Today the psalmist reflects on the truth that you just can’t get away from the Spirit of God.  Psalm 139 is good to remember whenever God feels absent.

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall guide me…

Have you ever come to Mass with serious doubts that you would get anything worthwhile out of the homily? Maybe you saw this priest or that priest come out, and said to yourself, “oh, him again.” However, we should always approach the homily, and the entire Mass, with a hopeful receptivity to the work of the Spirit.

Is it really possible that the Holy Spirit, who is everywhere, could be completely absent from the priest’s homily? Regardless of whether the priest preaches long or short, with refined style or with bare simplicity, in his first language or not, we should trust that the Holy Spirit will speak something to us through his words as long as we are spiritually open to listening.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

August 23, 2009

[Given before the 2008 presidential election]

I think it is by God’s providence that this Gospel about money, politics, and religious faith, is being read today in Catholic Churches throughout our country, and especially here in Ohio. We are now experiencing what people are calling a financial crisis, and we are on the verge of a pivotal election. First I would like to speak to you about the Gospel, then our financial fears, and then about this election.

In today’s Gospel, we see the Pharisees engaging in the politics of personal destruction against Jesus. They don’t like Jesus so they have launched a negative campaign to trap him in a damaging sound bite. The Pharisees’ dirty tricks squad comes to Jesus to set him up.  They begin with some flattery and then they ask Jesus about the religious lawfulness of paying the census tax. Notice that they don’t ask about the rightness or wrongness of paying taxes to the occupying Romans in general. They focus on one particular tax, the census tax, because census-taking was condemned in the Law of Moses.

God told Moses that the future leaders of His people should not make a count of the whole people. Knowing these figures, a king would know how to maximize his tax revenues. He would also know the size of the pool of men available to him to draft for his conquests. But with the king clearly knowing these things, knowing the great wealth and power at his disposal, he would be tempted to hubris. The king would be likely to fall to ambition and pride, to be forgetful of God and indifferent to God’s will. This would lead him, and all the people, towards disaster. The Law of Moses forbid the census-taking of the people, because a census-taking king is inclined to think that the people and everything belong to him, to do with as he wishes. But in truth, God’s people and everything else really belongs to God.

But isn’t this a lot like us? When we become overconfident in our position and wealth and power, when we live beyond our needs and live beyond our means, when our passions and pride are leading us, we are forgetful of God and indifferent to God’s will, and this leads us towards disaster. From time to time we should ask ourselves: is it in coins we trust, or is it in God we trust?

Now Back to Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Herodians. The disciples of the Pharisees hope that Jesus will answer this way: “The census tax is unlawful and no faithful Jew should pay it.” Because when he does that, the Herodians will step in and have Jesus arrested. You see the Herodians are the supporters of King Herod, the Roman-backed puppet king of Galilee. If the Herodians hear Jesus say that it is wrong to pay the Roman tax, they’ll have Jesus arrested for sedition, for preaching rebellion. Now you understand something of the difficult and dangerous spot in which the Pharisees and the Herodians have placed Jesus.

But Jesus answers with a phrase you already know well, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  This answer amazes Jesus’ hearers. All they can do is walk away. But what does this statement mean? I believe he is saying this to us: “Coins are of little consequence. Whose image and inscription is on this coin? Caesar’s? Then they belong to Caesar, let him have them. But as for you, whose image and inscription do you bear? The image and the likeness and the name that you bear is God’s.  So you belong to God. Give yourself to Him.”

[The fears raised by this financial crisis]

Jesus said, time and again, perhaps more than anything else, “Don’t be afraid.” So do not be afraid. It’s going to be ok. Worry is worthless, concern is enough. If you are doing the little that is in your power, be at peace with that.  Pray, and leave the rest to God. Because it’s going to be ok. Why? Because as much as Caesar loves his money, God loves you a thousand times more.  How great of a compliment is it to God when we choose not to worry, because this is an act of faith and trust in His goodness and His love for us.

Now please don’t dismiss me when I say “it’s going to be ok” because you think I’m Pollyannish, or that I’m youthful and overly optimistic about life. I say it because this is the good news our faith. The worst scenario that you can imagine happening in the future is very unlikely to occur, but let’s imagine for a moment that this financial crisis results in the very worst for you.  What if you’re stripped naked, left in complete poverty and humiliation? What if you experience pain like the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet nailed to beams of wood? What if you become so powerless that you can’t even wipe away blood and tears from your eyes? Even if this happens to you, even then, it’s going to be ok. Even if everyone else abandons you, you will not be alone. God our loving Father, who might seem distant, will never abandon you. He will be helping you. Mary our Mother, who always loves us, will never be far. She will be interceding for you. In your suffering, you will be with Christ, and you will rise again and be glorified with Him. So don’t be afraid, because no matter what, even if this happens to you, it’s going to be ok.

[What to consider in this pivotal election]

What makes America great? Is it our wealth and our military strength? I don’t think so, at least not in themselves, for a miser is wealthy, but he is hardly a great man. And a violent criminal may be very strong, but he is hardly a great man. If you judge greatness according to wealth and military strength, then Caesar was a great man and Jesus wasn’t. I believe America is great because it is founded upon human dignity.

“We hold certain truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by God, their Creator, with certain rights that cannot be taken away, and that among these are the right to pursue happiness, the right to liberty, and the right to life.” We recognize that people do not have value or rights merely because the government says so, but because we are valued by God and invested with just rights by Him.

The greatest and proudest moments in American history have been when we defended human dignity. The WWII generation, which is called the Greatest Generation, defended the world from Nazism and liberated the concentration camps. In our time, we have given hundreds of millions of dollars in tsunami relief for people in Southeast Asia. We have never meet these people and will likely never meet them in this life, but when we saw them on TV we knew they were human beings just like us and we had to do something. I also believe we have good reason in our day to be proud of our armed forces because they are protecting the innocent from the kind of people who execute women in soccer stadiums and who strap bombs to the young and send them into market places. In as much as our troops are defending human dignity abroad, I believe that’s something to be very, very proud of.

On the other hand, the saddest and most regrettable moments in our history have been where we failed to defend human dignity. Such as the oppression of the Native Americans, the institution of slavery, or our history of racial prejudice. Remember learning about history when you were a kid?  Perhaps you remember saying things like this: “If I had lived in the South in those days, I wouldn’t have owned slaves,” or, “If I had lived in Nazi Germany, I wouldn’t have been silent.” But the truth is that when you are living in a particular time it can be frighteningly easy to accept things as just the way things are. In one hundred years, when American school children look back at our times, about what will they say, “How could they have been so blinded, so indifferent, to what was going on in their midst? Why didn’t they do more to defend human dignity from conception to natural death?”

In short, everything I have said today, about the Gospel, our financial fears and this pivotal election can be summed up in this: We belong to God, we bear His image and He values us, so give yourself to Him.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

We humans are forgetful creatures. Look at the Hebrews, running short on food and patience in the first reading. It’s only one month since they’ve walked freely out of Egypt; after ten miraculous plagues, after the parting of a sea before them, after the total destruction of their enemies behind them. It’s just one month later and they’ve already forgotten God’s desire and creative ability to care for them. They’ve forgotten, and their hope is gone.

In the Gospel there’s more forgetfulness.  The people come to Jesus and they ask Him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?” Have they already forgotten about His recent miraculous sign, how just the other day he multiplied loaves and fish for them?  Recalling that miracle to mind would have strengthened their faith and hope.

We’re forgetful too. I, for example, often have a problem remembering how the responsorial psalm goes.  I hear it, I repeat it, and then it’s gone. We’re forgetful people. For instance, can you remember what I preached about the last Sunday I was here? I wouldn’t expect you to.

I spoke about how we should be hopeful because of Jesus Christ. I also strongly emphasized the importance of each of us to pray every day. This morning I want to teach you how we can be strengthened in faith and hope by recalling in prayer our most grace-filled memories.

Maybe you pray as the first thing when you wake up. Maybe you pray before you go to bed each night. Maybe you pray while you’re driving, perhaps imagining Jesus or Mary in the seat beside you. Maybe you make a daily visit to Jesus here really present in our tabernacle. When and where you pray each day is not as important as the prayers you offer and the connection and consolation that Christ wants to give you.

Anyone who prays frequently will have times when they sometimes seem to wander about in a desert of unfocused thoughts. By an act of will, we can try digging a hole here or there, looking for new, fresh, spiritual water. But there is an easier way to go about things when our prayer time feels hard and dry.

If we search our memories we can find places and times when God was obviously close and active. Perhaps a time when He silently but clearly spoke to you, or a time when He provided for you in answer to your prayers. Perhaps the births of your children or day you got married are moments that perceivably touched the eternal.

These memories can be wellsprings of grace and consolation for you. Just because we have left a well behind in your past doesn’t mean that well is run dry. What was true then, is still true now and you can go back their in your memories and draw graces from it again. Our grace-filled memories can serve as an anchor of hope, our ever-accessible source for faith and hope in prayer.

There is one more thing I on which I want to speak.  Our psalm said today:

“What we have heard and know, and what our fathers have declared to us, We will declare to the generation to come the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength and the wonders that he wrought.”

This psalm is not only written for the Old Testament Jews, its meant for us as well. And when it mentions “fathers” here, priests like me are not the fathers it has foremost in mind. Fathers, if your children only hear about God from me, your silence will speak a message to them. It is important that you be a spiritual leader for your family and tell the stories of our faith and of your faith.

Parents, have you ever told your children of “the glorious deeds” that the Lord has done for you? If not, why not? Do you feel reluctant to tell? Or do you think that there is nothing to tell? Either way, a change needs to happen.

So remember, whether you are dry at prayer, or raising children for the Lord, remember to remember.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

August 17, 2009

Their boat set out for a deserted place along the Sea of Galilee. But the word got out and lots of people “hastened” there, that is, they eagerly ran on foot, and arrived there faster than Jesus and the apostles could.

Why did those people run? They ran because they anticipated good things. They ran because they believed their desires would be fulfilled. In a word, they ran because Jesus and the Apostles had given them hope.

What can we hope for as Christians? Can we hope that if we stay close to Christ and to His Church that we’ll go to heaven someday?   Yes.  But is that all there is?  No. Our hope in Christ is not only for the time beginning once we’ve died.

Moments ago we heard Psalm 23, a psalm commonly heard at funerals. Though we tend to associate it with the holy dead, the blessings this psalm speaks of are for the living as well. For example, in the Gospel, Jesus leads the Apostles to a place beside restful waters to refresh their souls. He teaches the vast crowds that come many things, guiding them in right paths, and giving them courage. He has the people lay upon the green grass and, breaking bread, He spreads a meal before them.

We can confidently hope that Jesus will do these things for us.

Jesus wants to give you peace.  But what is peace? It means, in part, being liberated from worthless worry, having anxiety at all. As Christ inspired St. Paul to write the Philippians,

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus wants to teach you wisdom, and give you the courage you need to live it. Jesus Christ, teaching through our Church and its Scriptures, proclaims to you truths that the world doesn’t know and isn’t going to teach you. Jesus not only tells you how to live well but empowers you to do it too through the Holy Spirit alive within you.

Jesus wants to give you the bread you need. In a few moments, you will be receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in His Eucharist. And in addition to that, Jesus doesn’t only provide for you on this one day at Church. He provides for us all week long in the world out there. We pray for “daily bread”, and this is not just food, but whatever it is we need. Christ is rich, and wants to give you good things. If we a frugal and generous, He will provide us with whatever we need.

There is a lot of hopelessness about our times and the way things are headed, but we Christians should live with hope about our lives and about the world we live in. Now bad things are going to happen, but with Christ, a more glorious resurrection always follows the cross. With this truth in mind, we should be a people of hope.

At the same time, we should be wary of unchristian hopes, which are too worldly. Consider the crowds that eagerly flocked to Jesus. They held hope in this world because of Him. Unfortunately, their hope was often because they thought Jesus might become some militant, revolutionary messiah, who would ascend to the throne of David by slaying the Roman armies that occupied Israel. They were invested in hopes that he would establish a kingdom for Israel that would provide them with cheap food and easy money for the rest of their lives. John’s Gospel says that after the miracle of the loaves they wanted to carry Jesus off and make him king. The people wanted change, but Jesus wasn’t interested in their kind of change. Jesus knew that changing this world would be ultimately fruitless, unless we ourselves could first somehow be changed.

Our world is broken, but man is more broken more by sin. Give two sisters identical dolls, or give two brothers identical trucks, and a short time later you might come back to find them fighting over the exact same toy. Even if you handed everyone on earth everything they wanted, there would not be peace. The problem isn’t out there somewhere, the problems always in here. Money can do good things, but wealth in not our salvation. Good laws can help people, but politics are not our salvation. Christ is our salvation.

Christ is real and active with power in the world out there, but He tends to work from the inside-out.  That is to say, the kind of change that He is interested in usually begins within souls, like ours. Christ first changes Christians, and then through us, He transforms the world.

He wants to give us trusting peace inside, so we can live with freedom. He wants to give us contentment inside, as the antidote for our over-consumption. But first and foremost of all, He wants to give you prayer inside.

If you only hear one thing I say, this is the final and most important thing: A Christian has to pray, every single day. Daily prayer is the means to our conversion. Daily prayer is the first step to transforming our world. Daily prayer is the key to realizing our hopes, for this life and the next.

Christ has good things He wants to give you. So run to Him, with eager hope.