Archive for the ‘Sacrifice’ Category

Our Holy Conspiracy & the End of the World — 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year B

November 16, 2015

C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963A new liturgical Church year will begin in a couple of weeks with the first Sunday of Advent. As this Church year ends, our Mass readings (like today’s Sunday readings) focus on the Last Things and the end of the world as we know it. This weekend’s news reports, especially the terrible events in France, remind us that though the Kingdom of God is among us, we pray “thy Kingdom come” because it is not yet fully here in total, unveiled power. This weekend’s readings and news events remind me of passages from C.S. Lewis in excellent book Mere Christianity:

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless [radio] from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.”

Why does Lewis say that our king has landed “in disguise?” Well, where would you expect a king to be born? The Magi sought the newborn king of the Jews in the palace at Jerusalem, but Jesus was born in a barn—a cave in Bethlehem—to a pair of poor parents. How would one expect the Jewish Messiah to enter into Jerusalem to claim his throne? Probably riding on a warhorse, but Jesus came meekly riding on a donkey, just as had been prophesied about him. Who would have thought that God would become a man, and then suffer and die as he did? After the vindication of the resurrection, one would have thought he would appear to the high priest and Governor Pilate, or to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome, to declare that he was indeed who he claimed to be. Instead, Jesus appeared discretely, to his disciples.

Lewis writes that God has landed in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and has started “a sort of secret society” to undermine the devil. This secret society he speaks of is the Church. But what is so secret about the Church? We have a sign in front with our Mass times. We don’t check ID’s at the door. And if anyone wants to know about what we do or what we believe, we will gladly inform them. But, in a sense, the Church is a secret society—for the world and even many Catholics do not recognize who and what we really are. We are a holy conspiracy. We are fighting the propaganda of the world and the devil with the truth of God. We are recruiting others to the side of the Lord. We are his special forces sabotaging evil with the weapons of love in preparation for the king’s arrival.

From where do we receive our power for this mission? The source of our power is the Holy Mass. Today’s second reading says that the Old Testament’s priests offered many sacrifices because those  could not truly achieve their purpose, but Jesus our High Priest offers his sacrifice once for all. At Mass we transcend space and time to personally encounter that sacrifice, and it’s power is applied to us here and now, providing all the graces we need to fulfill his will.

Lewis asks, “Why is [God] not [yet] landing in [total unveiled] force, invading [our world]? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; [but] we do not know when.”

Indeed, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “of that day or hour, no one knows… but only the Father.”

We do not know when the Lord is going to land in force. “But,” Lewis continues, “we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman [during World War II] who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade.”

Why has God not yet invaded our world with his full, unveiled force? Why does he allow the wicked to use their freedom for evil, like the terrorism we saw in Paris?

Lewis writes, “I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?”

I think “the whole natural universe melting away” is an excellent reflection on today’s gospel. Jesus tells us that at the end:

“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…”

In the ancient world, the sun and moon, stars and planets, were considered the most stable and eternal things in the cosmos (and you can understand why.) But when even these things are passing, you know the universe as we know it is melting away. After this, the Lord Jesus comes with judgment. “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory… (and his angels, like St. Michael from our first reading, along with him…)”

Sprouting Fig Tree in SpringtimePerhaps we may find it surprising that Jesus describes these events as a good thing to his disciples. He says:

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.”

We usually associate the end of things with the fall. Youth is called the springtime of life, while old age is the fall. In the Northern Hemisphere, every Church year ends in the fall. Yet Jesus presents an analogy for the end of the world as one of spring becoming summer: ‘When the tender branch sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.’ A small thing, the branch, points to the arrival of a much greater reality, the summer. Why would we cling to the branch when the whole world is being renewed in glory? For friends of God, what is to come is better than what we see. The life we live now in this world is the winter. What is still to come for us is the spring and summer. Let us not hesitate to hope for it, envision it, and rejoice in it.

When the last day comes, “it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give [people] that chance. [But it] will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”

How long will it be until the Lord comes again? Jesus says in today’s gospel that, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” But he said this a long time ago. Was Jesus wrong? No, for when you read these passages from Mark in full context, Jesus is responding to his disciples questions about two things side-by-side: the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. The Romans destroyed the great city and its temple in 70 A.D., during the lifespan of some of Jesus’ hearers, and to many Jews it felt like the end of the world. This event prefigured the passing away of all things. Like other prophesies in the Bible, Jesus’ prophesy has a near and distant fulfillment, one after a forty-year opportunity for conversion, and another at the end of time.

So when will the Lord come again? The answer for every generation before us has been “not yet.” If this world endures to the year 10,000 A.D., the Christians of that time will probably regard us as the early Christians. I personally think it will still be awhile before he comes, for it is still legal to be a Christian in too many places on earth. Yet, in a sense, it doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming, for the end of our individual lives is equivalent to the end of the world for us. If you’re ready for one, you’re ready for the other. But if you, or people that you know, are not ready for either, then now is the time for conversion.

The Lord our King has recruited us into his holy conspiracy, arming us with the weapons of truth and love. You and I are his advanced forces and, among other tasks, he is sending us on rescue missions to bring others to himself. Who do you know that is far from Christ? We are to draw on the power of this Mass for them. We are called to pray, fast, and sacrifice for them, and even to be so bold as to talk with them—inviting them to come to Jesus Christ and his Church. Seize this opportunity and do not let it pass away, for whether the Lord first comes to us or we go forth to him, each and all will encounter him soon, face-to-face, in his full, unveiled glory.

Enduring Deprivation — Monday, 20th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 18, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 24:15-23, Matthew 19:16-22

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, by a sudden blow I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes, but do not mourn or weep or shed any tears. Groan in silence, make no lament for the dead, bind on your turban, put your sandals on your feet, do not cover your beard, and do not eat the customary bread.” That evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I had been commanded.

Then the people asked me, “Will you not tell us what all these things that you are doing mean for us?” I therefore spoke to the people that morning, saying to them: “Thus the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will now desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride, the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul. …  Your turbans shall remain on your heads, your sandals on your feet. You shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away because of your sins and groan one to another.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich HofmannWhat does Ezekiel in the first reading have in common with the young man in today’s gospel?

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” … Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Lord asked the rich young man to give up something precious to him, and the Lord took away something precious from Ezekiel. What if Ezekiel had rebelled after his loss, refusing to do anything further in the Lord’s service? People sometimes react to tragic loss in this way. What if that rich young man who went away sad never changed his mind? Divine callings often entail hardship, but consider the greater loss of never fulfilling the purpose of one’s life.

Every good thing, every person or possession, has come to us from God, and his desire for us is our supreme good. Therefore, the Lord is worthy of trust, even if we are stripped of what is dearly precious to us. As the suffering Job observed,

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”

Stained Glass Symbols — Mount Calvary’s Cross

February 18, 2014

Mount Calvary's Cross - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WIA Symbol of the Source & Summit of the Christian Life

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on Mount Calvary’s cross was offered in love of God and man. It is the source or fount for all saving grace, and the summit or pattern to which all Christians are called.

Stained Glass Symbols — The Host & Chalice

February 8, 2014

Host and Chalice - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WIA Symbol of Christ’s Death

Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist Host and chalice, yet the Host and chalice are symbolic as well. At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” Then he took a chalice of wine and said, “This is the chalice of my blood… which will be poured out for you…” When a living creature’s blood is separated from its broken body, death naturally follows. Though Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are fully present in every fragment of the Host and in every drop of the chalice, the symbolic separation of Jesus’ body and blood points to his sacrificial death.

The Way, Truth, & Life — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year A

May 22, 2011

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, leading us to God the Father. Like Jesus Himself, the Mass contains the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus. First, we journey on the Way to Jesus, then we come to the Truth of Jesus, finally we join in the Life of Jesus.

The Mass begins with the sign of the cross, for God is the beginning and end of everything. Next, we confess our unworthiness to approach the Lord, asking mercy for our sins, so that we may dare to take this journey to God. The, from the Holy Scriptures, we hear of God’s words and deeds among the Old Testament peoples and within the New Testament Church. In this, we learn of the providential way that God has prepared throughout time for us to encounter Jesus Christ today. Just as the journey on this Way through history leads to Jesus Christ, so the liturgy of the Word leads to the Gospel. Certainly, Jesus Christ the Word of God is present throughout the entire Word of God which is Sacred Scripture, but for the reading of the Gospel, we all stand up for Him and sing “Alleluia,” “Praise the Lord,” because we have come to Jesus Christ and He is more fully present among us in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gospel reading proclaims Jesus, who is the Truth. The homily that follows proclaims that the Truth matters for us here and now and demands our personal response. To this call, we answer with the Creed, proclaiming our faith in who God is and what He has done for us. In the Creed, we proclaim our acceptance of Jesus, the Truth. In the prayers of the faithful, we petition the Lord for our needs and concerns, saying in so many words, “Lord, let your kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven! Let us share you life! Give us your life!” At Mass, the Way leads to the Truth, and from the Truth we long for God’s Life. At Mass, the Liturgy of the Word leads to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The presentation of the gifts is not merely about moving around cash and bread and water and wine. The presentation of the gifts is about the presentation of everything that we have, and everything that we are, to God. We lift up our hearts to be one with our sacrifice. Amidst praises to the Father, the one life-giving sacrifice of the Last Supper, of the cross, and of Heaven becomes present here to us. We join in offering this sacrifice through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, to God the Father in Heaven.

Through this offered sacrifice, we join in God’s Life. We pray “Our Father,” because uniting with the paschal mystery, the great Easter deeds of Jesus, gives us life as the Father’s sons and daughters. Then we share with one another the sign of peace, the loving peace that is possessed by God’s holy ones. Finally, at the climax, we partake of Jesus Christ, Life Himself, most truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

Sometimes people say, “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Father, I know that you say all this important and wonderful stuff is going on, but I don’t see it and I don’t feel it. The Mass is boring for me.” I understand. When I was a boy, I made a point of going to the bathroom (sometimes twice) during every Mass, just to break up the monotony. When I would see the priest cleaning the dishes at the altar—that was a good sign, because it meant that the Mass was almost done. I didn’t really know what was happening at Mass, so I really didn’t believe in what was happening at Mass. But as I grew older I began to learn what was happening, and as I grew in faith I began to believe in what was happening, and my experience of the Mass was transformed.

People who say that the Mass is boring resemble St. Phillip in something he said to Jesus at the first Eucharist, the Last Supper: “Master, (we don’t see or feel the presence of God the Father,) show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Whoever has been to Mass has encountered my mysteries.) How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (How can you say, ‘The Mass is boring?’)” The awesome mystical realities of the Mass are true, and real, and present and active at every Mass we attend, whether we see them, or feel them, or believe in them, or not.

Jesus Christ and the Holy Mass contain the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we shall receive from them according to our faith. Let us pray, that at this Mass and every Mass, we may be as fully present to Jesus Christ and His mysteries as they are to us at every Mass.

A Man In Jesus’ Image — Divine Mercy Sunday—Year A

May 1, 2011

This Divine Mercy Sunday, our Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates and glorifies two men together in a special way. The first is our Savior, our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ; and the second is the great pope John Paul the Second, who is being beatified today in Rome. John Paul the Great, born Karol Wojtyla, is a man who lived in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Both chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be their mother. One chose her after the loss of his earthly mother as a boy. The other chose her from all eternity. Growing up, both of their beloved homelands were occupied and oppressed by foreign empires. For one it was the Romans. For the other it was the Nazis and then the Soviet Union. As young men, they both worked as manual laborers, in lives hidden from the world. When people encountered their ministries for the first time, many said, “Who is this man, and where does he come from?”

Both men transformed this world, not by leading violent revolutions, not by amassing incredible fortunes, but by speaking the truth, and living the truth, and leading others in doing the same for God. They preached God’s message, and their words gave hope and courage to many, but their words were not accepted by all. Both men had enemies who sought to destroy them, but they forgave, face to face, those who sought their lives.

At the end of their lives, both men were afflicted with great physical sufferings, but neither laid down their crosses. Some onlookers mocked or dismissed them in their afflictions, but those with spiritual insight beheld them to be offering a sacrifice to the Father for the salvation of the world.

St. John tells us that Jesus has done many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in his Gospel. As St. John writes elsewhere, “There are many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Among these signs are the lives of the saints throughout the centuries, saints like Pope John Paul the Great. His life was a sign worked by Jesus Christ in our midst so that we would come to believe more deeply that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief we may have life in his name.

Why did people love Pope John Paul II so much? Catholics of every country and of all ages loved and flocked to him. Even non-Catholics and non-Christians were drawn to him. What explains this phenomenon? I think the answer is simple. People saw in him a reflection of Jesus Christ’s love for them. John Paul the Second was an icon of Christ and his love.

Every time you saw Pope John Paul, he was smiling. He traveled the nations, and embraced everyone warmly. When you encountered him, you felt loved, even if you were one person in a crowd of thousands. This was the Holy Spirit at work. Although you did not see Jesus you loved him in Pope John Paul; even though you did not see Jesus you believed in him all the more because of him, and rejoiced with an indescribable and glorious joy.

This morning we celebrate a feast day which Pope John Paul II established, Divine Mercy Sunday. What is divine mercy like? What does Jesus’ unfathomable love, which enfolds every one of us here and every person God has made, look like? Through the life of Pope John the Great we saw a partial glimpse of the divine mercy and love of Jesus Christ.

“Do This…” — Holy Thursday

April 21, 2011

At the Last Supper, the night before he suffered for us, Jesus took some bread. He thanks to God for it and He broke it. And He declared it to be His body which would be given up for others. Then He offered it to those He loved. When the supper was ended, Jesus took a cup of wine. Again He gave thanks and praise to the Father. And He declared it to contain His blood, blood to be shed for all. Then He offered the cup to His disciples and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus ordained His apostles the first priests of the New Covenant. They and their successors would do this in remembrance of Him, throughout the centuries, up to this very night, and until He comes again. When you and I celebrate the Mass we remember Him and what He did, and more than just recalling it, we re-encounter it as that same sacrifice is offered in front of us. But Jesus’ words, ‘to do this in memory of Him’ means more than just coming to Mass.

Jesus is calling and commanding us to do the thing that He is doing. We must give God thanks and praise for what He has given us. We must take our bodies and give them up. We must take our life’s blood and pour it out. And we can do this, for God and for each other, in as many ways as there is to love. The sacrifices of your daily life, at home, at work, and at prayer; the work of washing feet; may not seem significant to you now, but these sacrifices shall your glory in Heaven forever.

As Jesus washed His apostles’ feet He said, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” And when He had finished He said, “If I, … the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Tonight, He says the same to us as well.

3 Mountains / 3 Montañas — 2nd Sunday in Lent—Year A

March 20, 2011
In the life of Jesus, he climbs three significant mountains; The mountain of the sermon on the mount, the mountain of Transfiguration (in today’s reading) and the mountain of the crucifixion. In the Christian life, we must also visit these three mountains. 
 
The three mountains are united. The wisdom of the sermon on the mount, on the first mountain, brings the pleasures and pains of the other mountains. The life of the Gospel brings the joys of the light and the suffering of the cross. Wisdom, glory and sacrifice; the three are a trio here on this earth. Our glories without sacrifice pass quickly. Our sacrifices without wisdom we regret quickly. And our wisdom will be without glory forever if we do not follow Christ in sacrifice. Which mountain should visit more this season of Lent?
 
Do you lack wisdom? Do you not know well that Jesus and his Church teaches? Go to the first mountain to learn, like the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount, with the Bible, or the Catechism or many popular resources available in audio or visual forms.
 
Do you need consolation? Do you not feel well that Jesus is your beloved friend? Go to the second mountain, to feel like Jesus and his disciples at the Transfiguration, through time in a quiet place with God.
 
Do you need perfection in your love? Do you not carry the cross well? Go to the last mountain to practice it, like Jesus at the crucifixion, through good works for others.
 
Jesus climbed the mountains of wisdom, glory and sacrifice. To be with him, we must climb these also.
 

En la vida de Jesús, él sube tres montañas notables. La montaña del sermón del monte, la montaña de la transfiguración (en la lectura de hoy) y la montaña de la crucifixión. En la vida cristiana, debemos visitar estas tres montañas también.

Las tres montañas están unidas. La sabiduría del sermón del monte, de la primera montaña, trae los placeres y dolores de las otras montañas. La vida del Evangelio trae las alegrías de la luz y los sufrimientos de la cruz.  Sabiduría, gloria y sacrificio; los tres son un trío unido en esta tierra.

Nuestras glorias sin sacrificio pasan rápidamente. Nuestros sacrificios sin sabiduría lamentamos rápidamente. Y nuestra sabiduría será sin gloria para siempre si no nos siga a Cristo en sacrificio. ¿Qué montaña deben visitar más esta temporada de Cuaresma?

¿Faltas de sabiduría? ¿No sabes bien lo que Jesús y su Iglesia enseñan? Vaya a la primera montaña para aprender como los discípulos al sermón del monte, con la Biblia, o el catecismo o muchos recursos populares disponibles en formularios visuales o de audio.

¿Necesitas consuelo? ¿No te sientes bien que Jesús es tu amigo amado? Vaya a la segunda montaña para sentirlo como Jesús y sus discípulos a la transfiguración, con tiempo con Dios en un lugar tranquilo.

¿Necesitas perfección en tu amor? ¿No llevas bien la cruz? Vaya a la última montaña para practicarlo como Jesús a la crucifixión, con buenas obras para otros.

Jesús subió las montañas de sabiduría, de gloria y de sacrificio. Para estar con él, debemos subir estas también.

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.

The Giving Tree — Tuesday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

March 1, 2011

Do you remember The Giving Tree, that very green childrens book by Shel Silverstein? It’s a story about a boy and the tree that loved him. When he is a boy, the tree gives him her leaves to play with and her apples to eat. However, when the boy becomes a young man he comes asking for money, so that he can buy things and have fun. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, she gives him her apples for him to sell. Time passes, and he comes back, this time asking for a house. The tree lets him cut off her branches so that he may build one. Later, much later, the boy returns again, but he is now a much older and sadder man.”I want a boat that will take me far away from here,” he says. “Can you give me a boat?” The tree offers her trunk and he takes it. He fashions a boat, and sails far away. After a long time, the boy returns, now a very tried and very old man. The tree is now just an old stump. He has taken everything, but she still gives. The story closes with these words: “‘Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

Now if The Giving Tree has always been one of your favorite books, that’s ok. If it has a special place in your heart, don’t let me or anybody take that from you. But, as for me, this book has always bothered the heck out of me. Even when I was a kid, the story filled me with indignation. Do you know what I’m taking about?

It’s the boy! The selfish, ungrateful boy, who never gives anything back. He receives everything the tree has to give and he never says, “Thank you.” He takes everything she has to give, uses all of it up on himself, and he never says, “I’m sorry.” This book would have been so much better if he just said “thank you” at the end. Does this kid’s behavior in the story of The Giving Tree bother you like it bothers me? If so, then you and I should make sure that we’re not doing the same in our own lives.

So who would be the “giving tree” we take for granted in our lives? Our moms and dads come first to mind. They’ve given us life, food, shelter, clothing, and love our entire lives. What have we given back to them? They probably don’t need your material support right now, but they would appreciate signs of your love. (It’s probably no coincidence that Shel Silverstein dedicated The Giving Tree to his own mom.) But there is another “Giving Tree” we can take for granted, who is even greater and more generous than our parents. I speak of God, and of Jesus Christ, “from whom all good things come.” What should we do for our parents and for God? We should honor them with our words. We should obey them in our actions. We should be grateful for everything and show it.

For God, we do this by way of sacrifices. (This Eucharist is a thanksgiving sacrifice. The name itself means thanksgiving in Greek.) Yet our sacrifice is not merely what happens here at church, but the offering of our whole lives. Those who make no sacrifices for God in their daily lives bring nothing to His altar. What do we have to offer Him today? What will we have to offer him tomorrow?

Jesus Christ is The Giving Tree. At this sacrifice, let us say to Him, “I’m sorry, for misusing your gifts.” Let us say, “Thank you, for your generosity to us.” And let us say, “I love you,” because that will make Him happy.

The Sorrowful Mysteries, Meditations on Vocation with the Saints

October 29, 2010

The 1st Sorrowful Mystery:
The Agony in the Garden

Years before Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Blessed Virgin Mary had an agony of her own, when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to her that she would bear the Son of God. Mary was “greatly troubled,” and the angel sought to reassure her “Do not be afraid, Mary….” Even after the plan was presented to her, she must have been full of questions about her future, like “What will Joseph and my parents think?” But Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” and because she said that, Jesus could say years later, “Father… not my will but yours be done.”

God has a plan for every life, and a calling, a “vocation,” meant for them. Accepting God’s plan for our lives can take great, trusting courage, but answering “Yes” to Him will do more good than we know. Let us pray for the grace, trust, and courage to say “Yes” to our own God-given callings.

The 2nd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Scourging at the Pillar

Father Damien went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai to minister the spiritual and bodily needs of lepers exiled there. Last year, in 2009, Father Damien was canonized a saint. But in 1889, six months after his death, the following letter was published in a Protestant Christian newspaper:

Dear Brother,

In answer to your inquires about Father Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Other have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.

– Yours, etc., “C. M. Hyde”

Hyde’s comments are noted today only because they were so exquisitely answered in an open letter by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Stevenson quite rightly wrote, “[If the world will] at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.” The whole reply, assessing Damien and rebuking Hyde, is worth your reading, but I will give you the closing words: “[Father Damien] is my father… and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.”

In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus asked, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is because when someone set about to do God’s will, the world, which opposes God, will attack that person. Criticisms will land on the just man like lashes on the back. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you,” for ‘the world loves its own.’ If there is nothing very counter-cultural about your life, then you are not yet living out the Gospel as Christ calls you to do. Let us pray for the grace to be faithful to the Gospel, even at personal cost.

The 3rd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crowning with Thorns

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” How bold of him to imagine, and how bolder still to ask, that he might receive them both. St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, where he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

At yesterday’s Mass you heard that God, by His power, “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.” Yet we will receive little if we are too timid to imagine or ask much of Him. Let us pray for the grace to imagine and ask to be crowned by Christ with a life with far greater than whatever we would merely drift into on our own.

The 4th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Carrying of the Cross

In 1961, Gianna Molla was expecting another child. During her second month of pregnancy, a tumor developed in her uterus. She could have chosen to have her uterus removed—preserving her own life, but resulting in her baby’s death.  Instead, she chose to try having the tumor surgery removed. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna told her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby.” On Good Friday, 1962, Gianna gave birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, but it was too late for the mother. St. Gianna Molla died one week later.

Naturally, we all hate to suffering, but if you were to ask St. Gianna Molla what was the greatest thing she ever did, the thing she least regrets and of which she is most proud, I bet she point to this final trial, carrying the cross for the life of her child. I suspect, that on the other side of death, we shall see how much good an offered suffering can do, and we will regret not having offered more. We should ask ourselves, would I rather live a great life, or merely an easy one. Let us pray for the grace to be a lasting blessing to others though the crosses that come our way.

The 5th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crucifixion

We think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries there are, but in 1920’s, it was illegal to celebrate Mass there.  That did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. from sneaking about to minister to people in their homes.  After many close calls, Fr. Pro was captured by police and condemned to death on false charges that he was somehow connected to a bombing assassination plot.

When he was led out for his execution by firing squad, Fr. Pro be blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Just before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) When the first shots failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The government had a photographer on hand, capturing these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after the images were published their possession was made illegal—a Catholic priest dying faithfully and bravely was an inspiration giving new life to a people oppressed.

At the end of the Rosary we pray, “O God… grant, we beseech Thee, that, meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.” If we are faithful to Christ, the mysteries of His life we be made manifest in our own. And if we are faithful to Christ, we will receive a glory similar to His own. Let us pray for the grace to live extraordinary lives in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

The Glorious Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 27, 2010

The 1st Glorious Mystery:
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead

St. John Bosco, an Italian priest, founded a famous school for boys in the mid-1800’s and is the patron saint of students. He is known to have worked many miracles, but one from 1849 stands out. Returning from a journey, he learned that Charles, a 15 year old student, had died. He went immediately to the teenager’s home where the family informed him that Charles had been dead for over 10 hours. The body was laid out in the living room, already dressed for burial.

Fr. Bosco asked everyone to leave except the mother and the aunt. After some time in silent prayer, he cried out: “Charles, rise!” Charles emitted a long sigh, stirred, opened his eyes, stared at his mother and asked, “Why did you dress me like this?” Then, realizing Fr. Bosco was present, he told him how he had cried out for him and how he had been waiting for him. He exclaimed, “Father, I should be in hell!” He told of how a few weeks before he had fallen into serious sin. Then he said he had a “dream” of being on the edge of a huge fiery furnace, and as he was about to be thrown into the flames, a beautiful lady appeared and prevented it. She said, “There is still hope for you, Charles. You have not yet been judged.” Then he heard the voice of Fr. Bosco calling him back.

Charles asked Fr. Bosco to hear his confession. After his confession, the mourners filled the room again, and Fr. Bosco said, “Charles, now that the gates of heaven lie wide open for you, would you rather go there or stay here with us?” A profound silence filled the room. Charles, with tears in his eyes said, “I’d rather go to heaven.” Then he leaned back on the pillows, closed his eyes and breathed his last.

Unless Jesus’ Second Coming happens first, each of us here will die, and rise. As we meditate on Jesus’ resurrection, let us consider how ready we are to meet Him.

The 2nd Glorious Mystery:
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

St. Padre Pio is another Italian priest from not so long ago who also worked remarkable miracles. During WWII, Allied planes flew bombing raids over Italy. Almost all of the centers of the region were subjected to repeated bombardment, but no bombs ravaged the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Every time the aviators approached that place, they saw a monk flying in the air who prevented them from dropping their bombs. Understandably, reports of this flying friar did not amuse the superior offices.

Bernardo Rosini, a general of the Italian Air Force, recounts this story: “One day, an American commander wanted to lead a squadron of bombers himself to destroy the German arms depository of war material that was located at San Giovanni Rotondo. The commander related that as he approached the target, he and his pilots saw rising in the sky the figure of a friar with his hands held outward. The bombs released of their own accord, falling in the woods, and the planes completely reversed course without any intervention by the pilots.”  

Someone told the commanding general that in a convent at this town, there lived a saintly man. At war’s end, the general wanted to go meet this person. “He was accompanied by several pilots… He went to the convent of the Capuchins. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the sacristy, he found himself in front of several friars, among whom he immediately recognized the one who had ‘stopped’ his planes. Padre Pio went forward to meet him, and putting his hand on his shoulder, he said, `So, you’re the one who wanted to get rid of us all!’”

As we meditate on the Ascension of Jesus, to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, let us pray that He would establish justice and peace, in this country and the whole world, in our time.

The 3rd Glorious Mystery:
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

We usually don’t associate India with Christianity, but that nation has over 24 million Christians.  That’s about as many people as live in Texas, our second largest state. If you were to ask them how the faith reached their land they would point to St. Thomas the Apostle.

What led St. Thomas, who at first refused to even believe in the Good News, to travel over 2,500 miles to bring them the Gospel? It was not merely seeing the risen Christ. Jesus knew His disciples would need more to strengthen them then merely their memories of Him. St. Thomas journeyed because the Lord had sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to fill them with gifts, like wisdom, courage, and zeal.

If we are in the state of grace, God the Holy Spirit dwells in us too, and He wants to empower us with His gifts. As we meditate on the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let us pray for whatever spiritual gift that we need the most.

The 4th Glorious Mystery:
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

No Church, in the East or the West, claims to contain the body of St. Mary. This is because “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is because Jesus would not suffer Mary, His sinless, faithful beloved, to undergo corruption.

Death is a consequence of human sin, and without human intervention, as in embalming or mummification, our dead bodies will ordinarily experience its corruption. But, sometimes, the Lord preserves the dead bodies of his saints, to give a sign of their holiness, and to show that death is not all that awaits us.

Among the numerous saints whose incorrupt bodies you can still see today are:  St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, St. Catherine Laboure (the visionary of the Miraculous Medal), St. Bernadette Soubirous (the visionary of Lourdes), and St. Maria Goretti.

As we meditate on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us pray for purity in our lives.

The 5th Glorious Mystery:
The Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, were he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

Jesus crowns his holy ones. He wills that those who share in His sacrifice should also share in His glory. As we meditate on the Coronation of Mary, let us pray to accept whatever crowns of burden and glory the Lord wants to give to us.

A Great Quote about St. Issac Jogues

October 20, 2010

August, 1642 AD. The Jesuit missionary St. Issac Jogues is canoeing to the land of the Herons in New France when he is captured by Mohawk Iroquois. They torture him and cut off several of his fingers. He later escapes them and returns home to France, but he laments no longer being able to preside at the Mass.  (Canon law prohibits him from offering the sacrifice with his maimed hands.)

An appeal is made to Pope Urban VIII in Rome for an unprecedented dispensation. The pope  responds with this famous reply:

“Can one deny the right to say Mass to a martyr of Christ?”

St. Issac Jogues returns to Canada and sheds his blood a second, final time at the hands of those he came to save.

The Scandalous Cross — September 14 — Exultation of the Holy Cross

September 14, 2010

Jesus died on a cross. But what if Jesus had died differently? Then, instead of crosses, Christians might wear little nooses. Under different circumstances, we might be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Electric Chair, or the Exultation of the Lethal-Injection Syringe. These images unsettle us, but we are comfortable with the idea of Jesus’ cross. However, whenever we find ourselves complaining, we are feeling the scandal of the cross.

We will naturally dislike it when life is hard on us, but “do not forget the works of the Lord.” Jesus’ crucifixion, despite its pain, injustice, and seeming futility, was the means for His glory and for our salvation. With Christ we become invincible, because even our suffering profits us. So when unavoidable crosses come, patiently bear them and use them as a powerful offering to God.

Enduring Injustices — Tuesday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

September 7, 2010

St. Paul rebukes the Corinthians today, saying, “[It is] a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another.” Then he says something that rubs us the wrong way: Paul asks, “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?” We resist, saying, “It’s just common sense that we shouldn’t let ourselves be cheated.” But sometimes common sense falls short. That’s why we need the teachings Jesus Christ revealed. Jesus said:

“When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Now this does not mean that we should be indifferent to injustices done to others, nor that we should seek out opportunities to be wronged by others ourselves. But when we are personally wronged, Paul suggests that we try imitating Jesus. St. Peter would agree, for he wrote:

“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

The next time you find yourself wronged, try imitating Christ. Jesus trusted that the Father would provide for Him, and He was provided for. Jesus accepted His unjust suffering, and it changed the world. Jesus invites you to accept a cross and to follow Him into this mystery.