Archive for the ‘Discipline’ Category

The Passion of Lent — 1st Sunday in Lent—Year A

March 14, 2011


Today Satan approaches Jesus in the desert at the end of His forty days of prayer and fasting and attempts to divert Him from the Father’s plan.   The ancient serpent employs the same tactics he used on Eve in the garden, twisting God’s words and playing on human desires. So how much did Satan know about what Jesus intended to do in the years ahead? St. Matthew suggests the Devil knew something of this, because the three temptations Satan puts to Jesus foreshadow His future Passion.

First, Satan comes and says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Is it a coincidence that at the Last Supper Jesus will command bread to transformation into His very Self? It is as if the Devil were saying, “Why not simply give everyone bread. Why give yourself into their hands?” Jesus answers, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Jesus knows that a lifetime supply of bread would not save us. To live forever the Bread of Life must nourish us. Jesus is the Bread of Life. We do not live by bread alone, with whatever this world can offer, but by the Word that comes forth from the mouth of God. The Word of God is Jesus Christ.

This first temptation and Jesus’ answer point to the importance of prayer and the Eucharist. Prayer lifts our minds above having worldly thoughts alone. The Eucharist empowers our hearts to live for God. Do you pray every day? Prayer must be a top priority in Lent. Do you frequently receive Jesus in the Eucharist? In Lent, try coming to weekday Masses. Those who do so find it so powerful and precious that they often wonder how they ever used to make it a full seven days without receiving Jesus in between.

For his next temptation, Satan takes Jesus to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem. About three years later, not far from that place, the hostile Sanhedrin will gather and put Jesus on trial, questioning Him, demanding to know, ‘Are you the Son of God?’ and they’re not going to like His answer. The Devil says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  [God’s angels will protect you.]” It is as if the Devil were saying, “Since you are a child of God He will be with you to save you no matter what, so why not do your own will and decline to give difficult witness?” But Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

You and I are also children of God and He is always with us,  but this must not lead us to presumption. We need to seek His will and give witness in the world by our words and deeds. If we sin, God always offers forgiveness, but we must take Him up on the offer. God always welcomes sinners, but we must turn to Him. To keep sinning without any words or actions of repentance is to put God to the test.

This second temptation and Jesus’ response point to the importance of confession and conversion. This Lent, turn from sin, come to confession at least once, and put some serious thought into planning how you will “sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.”

For the third temptation, the Devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence. He says, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Jesus plans to claim His universal kingdom by climbing another mountain by Himself, Mount Calvary, and by taking his throne on the cross. (This is why Jesus tells James and John that they do not know that they are asking when they request to sit ‘one at His right hand and one at His left when He enters His kingdom and glory.’) Here it is as if the Devil were saying, “If you simply give up you won’t have to sacrifice, you won’t have to suffer. Lay down your cross and lay down before me.” But Jesus rebukes the devil, (much like he will later rebuke St. Peter for saying, ‘God forbid such a thing should ever happen to you): “Get away, Satan! The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

This third temptation and Jesus’ answer point to the importance spiritual sacrifices and patiently bearing our burdens. We have taken on Lenten penances, let us not give them up; and when unforeseen trials come to us, let us trust that Jesus knows what He’s doing; for it is through crosses like these that God makes us holy.

Prayer and the Eucharist, confession and conversion, spiritual sacrifices and patiently bearing our burdens. Let these things be in your response as you are tested these forty days.

Let Advent Be Advent — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year A

December 5, 2010

John the Baptist was living quite differently compared to people in his day. What he wore was different, what he ate was different, and what came from his lips was also different. Yet, John shared something in common with us today. Like Christians in this season of Advent, John knew that the Christ, or Messiah, had already been born, years before in the past. Like us, what John was preparing for was the coming of Christ anew.

That’s the reason why in Advent, in this season of awaiting the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist is so prominently featured in our Sunday Gospel readings, like today’s. By looking at John we can learn how to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival. As I mentioned before, John was rather different from his neighbors in his day. Today I suggest that we in the Church need to be a bit more different from everybody else if we want to prepare better for Christ’s coming this year.

What did John do with all that time alone in the desert, when he wasn’t out preaching or baptizing? Surely, John was praying, asking for grace and contemplating the one who was coming. The desert is a quiet place, free of distractions, and conducive to prayer. The world can make this month before Christmas a very stressful time. This Advent, you must find a desert, a quiet place, free from distractions, where you can pray each day. Create a daily desert space for your own family as well and prayer together as one. You cannot prepare well for Christ’s coming without daily prayer and the peace it gives.

What did John eat in the desert? He ate locusts, or grasshoppers, and wild honey. The wild honey may sound pretty sweet, until you realize that it was guarded by wild bees. John ate simply. Our meals in Advent should be simple too. You know how it is at Easter, when you enjoy what you gave up for Lent again for the first time? You find yourself enjoying what you denied yourself more than ever before. Then just think of how much greater your Christmas feasting will be if you eat more simply in Advent. (Besides, if you fast or diet now, there will less pounds to lose next year.)

John dressed differently than other people in his day. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah because he wanted people to know that these were special days. You can also dress in ways that witness to the world that these are special days. One way to do this is to dress liturgically. As you can see, the main color of Advent is purple. If you have purple outfits or ties, now is their season.

By the way, this Wednesday, December 8th, is a holy day of obligation and Christ is asking you to attend the worldwide feast in honor of His immaculately conceived mother. On such a day, intentionally wearing blue or white would honor her. Try dressing liturgically and you’ll find that it reminds you and others of what makes these days special.

What came from the lips of John was different, and despite the large crowds, whatever he spoke was not for himself but for Christ. This year, wish people “merry Christmas” instead of “seasons greetings,” and instead of “happy holidays,” say “happy holy days,” for by this you give witness to the true reason for the season.

John knew that he must decrease and that Christ must increase, for John himself was not the light but had come to give testimony to the light. In the world, the Christmas songs have already begun on the radio and the Christmas trees are all up and lit in the malls, but the day after Christmas their songs will stop and their decorations will be taken down. But as the world is packing Christ away for another year, the Church is just beginning its celebration. You know the “twelve days of Christmas?” On Christmas day, the twelve day begin, not end. Like Easter, the Church celebrates not just one day, but for weeks after.

This year, let Advent be Advent, and save Christmas for Christmas. Sing Advent songs for Advent, and (as much as possible) save Christmas carols for their time. I suggest leaving your Christmas lights, on your tree and on your house, unlit during Advent. Then, when you plug-in at last on Christmas Eve, you shall enjoy a joyful sign that the light of the world has come.

St. John the Baptist calls to you through the Scriptures. I encourage you here, before you. And I hope the Holy Spirit is now prompting you, in your hearts and minds, to keep Advent as Advent this year, and to prayerfully prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas more profoundly than you ever have before.

Demonic Delay — 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

November 14, 2010

Once upon a time, an uncertain number of years ago, there was an important meeting of demons in Hell. In the midst of their fires and shadows, with a foul and terrible stink in the air, the top of Hell’s hierarchy was planning a long-term strategy for how to mislead humanity.

Why do they scheme against us? Because on the day when Jesus comes again to judge and rule the world with justice, the demons do not want us to experience His healing rays; they want us to burn with fire, like themselves. Since they cannot hurt God directly, they lash out by trying to make us share in their misery.

As they met, brainstorming for ideas, one demon suggested, “How about we try telling them that there is no such thing as evil?” The chairman said, “You stupid worm, you pathetic disgrace, the humans will never believe that! Do you think that we can pit a person against a person, a nation against a nation, or a soul against our Enemy above, without the humans noticing the sadnesses, sufferings, impurities, jealousies, envies, rivalries, resentments, hatreds, injustices, cruelties, or murders that follow? They see evidence of evil on the front page of every newspaper and in every gossip’s tale! Humans are reminded that something’s wrong with their world whenever their alarm clocks ring, whenever their toes get stubbed, or whenever someone they know dies! You’ll have to do better than that!”

A little while later, another demon suggested, “What if we told them that there is no such thing as goodness?” The chairman said, “You worthless slime, you ugly idiot, the humans will never believe that! Our Enemy above has littered their world with beauties and gifts to many to count, and everything that the humans do is in the pursuit of what they think is good! They have this irresistible desire to be happy that our Enemy has built into them! Tell me, how would we tempt them to sin without promising them something which attracts them, something which is at least seemingly good? Is there anyone here who is not a useless fool?”

But then, one of the chairman’s most cunning underlings suggested another approach, an approach which was immediately welcomed by the others with cruel smiles and restrained applause (for a demon resists praising anyone but himself.) This insightful demon said, “Let us convince the humans… that there’s no need to hurry.”

In every generation, there have been Christians who belived that their generation would be the last. But personally, I don’t expect the second coming of Jesus Christ to happen in the very near future for the simple fact that it remains legal to be a Christian throughout North and South America. There are great evils in our world, even within our own country, but the final attack of evil against Christ’s Church in the last days should be far worse than this. [For more from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on “The Church’s Ultimate Trial,” see CCC 675-677 ]

I do not expect Christ to come in the immediate future to us, but we must always be preparing ourselves to be ready to go to Him, for we never know when we will die. Never be anxious and never be afraid, but prepare yourself for what is certainly coming. Instead of being busybodies, distracted by many unimportant things, let’s get busy making the most important things the most important things.

If you knew for a fact that you were going to die six months from today how would you begin to live your life differently? Would you pray more each day? Would you go to confession and to Mass more often? Would you work harder at doing good works? Would you crush your lingering vices? Would you forgive your enemies? Would you show more love to the people in your daily life?

Seriously thinking about what you would you do different if you knew you were going to die will give you a good place to start in living more intentionally for Christ, with your eternal goal in mind. Do not believe the demon’s whispered lie that ‘there is no need to hurry,’ for your last day is closer than it was yesterday, and it may be much closer than you think.

Strive to Enter — 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 2, 2010

The Emmy-winning Servant of God, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, once said that in Heaven we will have three surprises: 

  1) We’ll see people there that we didn’t expect to see…

  2) We won’t see people there that we did expect to see, and…

  3) We’ll be surprised to see ourselves there!
 
 
In today’s gospel, someone shouts out from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus answers Him, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Instead of giving the man a figure, Jesus gives him more valuable counsel, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for whether or not you will be saved depends (in part) on you.” Yet we are still left wondering, “Will the number saved be many, or only a few?”

On the one hand we have John’s eyewitness testimony from the Book of Revelation. When he say the worship of the saints in heaven he saw  “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is much larger than 144,000 which had just been counted.) It is as the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Based on this we can say that many will be saved.

On the other hand, in the Gospel of Matthew, in the parallel passage to today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” The ‘few’ who find the narrow gate certainly sounds like less than the ‘many’ who don’t. Based on this we can say that many will not be saved.

My purpose in raising this topic is not to frighten you, for Jesus said, over and again, “Do not be afraid.” But I believe it is with Jesus’ heart that I urge you not to be complacent. To be complacent is to be self-satisfied and unaware of possible dangers. Jesus urges us to, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” for many will not be able.

There is no way to know, but something in me suspects that the man who called out to Jesus assumed his own salvation to be a certainty; he was merely curious if many others would be joining him.  Jesus warned him not to be presumptuous, and this gospel has come down to us today because it’s a message meant for us too.

All of us come to church, and that’s a very good thing, but coming to church every Sunday does not guarantee our salvation. In the parable that Jesus told, the master of the house arises like the judge of our world at the end of time. People knock on the locked door and say, “Lord, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We eat and drink in Jesus’ company too, and he teaches in our streets. We eat and drink with Him here, at the Eucharist, and whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed, Christ speaks. Being a disciple of Christ, a true friend of Christ, means more than just coming to church.

We must strive to enter the narrow gate. We must pursue and embrace holy discipline for our lives, as we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews: “…Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines…. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.  So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

What in your life needs holy discipline? Do you pray every day, or is God only a bedtime afterthought? Do you pray with your spouse and your children, besides at mealtimes? Do you read and watch things that feed your soul? Do you fast and give alms? Do you treat every Friday as a day of penance and every Sunday as a day of joyful rest? What good habit do you need to begin? And what persistent sin do you need to fight, like a life-threatening cancer, for indeed it is. If you were to look back on your life someday from your deathbed, what would you most regret having left undone?

Jesus says to us in this present age, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Are you asking, are you seeking, are you knocking? Strive for holiness while the door remains unlooked, and be encouraged, for Jesus is also striving after you. In Revelation He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, (then) I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts, minds, and souls; in our feelings, thoughts, and deepest desires. If we open our doors and welcome Him now, and strive with Him for holiness, Jesus will open for us the door to Heaven and welcome us inside.