When he was at table with them, he took the bread. He blessed the bread, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him!(Luke 24:13-35)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Where's the nearest wall?

Have you ever been frustrated by others who don’t appear to listen, despite your best efforts and repeated instructions, suggestions and admonitions?  Instead, they take a different path, turn in the wrong direction or make a mistake. They know what they should do, but they don’t do it. I used to get that feeling a lot when I was working in management.  All I could do was sigh loudly and roll my eyes over their bullheaded behavior that could (and often did) get them into some very serious trouble, and even lead others to the same fate.

That kind of behavior resonated with me as I read the first reading today, where Moses intercedes for those who have built the molten calf to worship it.  Moses asks God to relent from punishing those who have strayed, who didn’t listen to God and Moses. God does listen and relents. In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus seems exasperated that people don’t listen or if they do listen, they don’t hear. He tells of people searching the Scriptures to find eternal life, yet they don’t want to come to Jesus to have that life.

Today’s readings made me realize that this lack of listening, or perhaps it is listening and not really hearing, also characterizes my relationship with God. I have instructions, suggestions and admonitions, but I often stray away from what I should do and who I should be. I don’t hear. I may listen to the Gospel, but I’m easily swayed by my own bullheadedness. I pray that I really hear God and that I listen with an open heart and a mind and a will that are open to God’s way, not just my way.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Why settle for plain old vanilla?

Twice this week I’ve been blessed to hear two different speakers on the radio talking about the 7 Sacraments.  

The first speaker was a priest who refers to them as “hatching, matching, and dispatching”. 

“Hatching” refers to the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Confirmation—which bring us to Christ and nurture our faith.  

“Matching” is the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders, which bring us closer to Christ by embracing the vocation He desires for us.

“Dispatching” is the Sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites, which bring us closer to Christ by imparting the Grace we need to bear our distress in times of ill health or imminent death.

I just thought that was a simple way of explaining the Sacraments to someone who might be confused about their importance in our lives.

Then yesterday, I heard a woman compare the Sacraments to creme brûlée.  She came from a Christian tradition that doesn’t recognize the Sacraments as the presence of the Holy Trinity in our soul.  She said she was tempted a few times to leave the Catholic Church because of the scandals that just seem to be getting uglier and uglier, but she didn’t, because although other traditions out there can be “as sweet as vanilla” and pleasing to God, she’s tasted the “creme brûlée” that is the True Presence of Christ in the Sacraments, and doesn’t want to go back to “plain old vanilla”.  I concur.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The man in the boat.....

It’s my brother Tom’s birthday! I miss him terribly, but especially on this special day.

He was a remarkable artist who had no formal training. He could look at any scene or object and re-create it in any medium you asked him to—pen and ink, pencil, crayon—I was so envious of his talent I could scream!

I found out a few days after his funeral, when I was clearing out his things from Mom’s house and found a journal he had been keeping, that he could also paint beautiful pictures with words!

He wrote an entry dated about a month after his son Tommy was killed in a boating accident while they were out fishing.  It read:

Every time I go fishing, I will remember that the last moments of Tommy's life were filled with love. Because I know how much he loved me and that we had spent a blissful afternoon; and we were excited about the prospect of spending the remainder of the day together fishing, swimming and laughing--completely content.

Some time ago, I was asked the question, "What do you think are the one or two words that describe how you would like to live the rest of your life?" I responded with "contentment and serenity." Afterwards, I was asked to draw what my vision of "contentment and serenity" would look like.

I drew a picture in my mind of a man sitting, no, reclining in a simple rowboat, with a straw hat providing his only disguise from the mid-day sun. Far in the distance the shoreline doubled as the horizon, with images of some agricultural outbuildings, surrounded by harvested cornfields, somewhat overgrown by time. The remainder of the horizon was in its natural state, as one would expect to see on any leisurely Sunday drive in the mid-west states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan; Tall cottonwood trees, Dutch elms, oaks, river birch, and eucalyptus.

The sun was giving the most magnificent reflection of all of Nature's beauty on the water, ever-changing with the passing of the day. Out of nowhere the sweet, warm afternoon breeze would cause the sunlight to sparkle through the leaves of the trees on the horizon; falling, then without warning, dancing with the boat through the rippling carpet of water.

Possibly the most serene notion of this beautiful passage of time is that…"

Tom’s entry stopped abruptly there.  I wish he had drawn the picture and included it in the entry, but I could see what he was describing as clearly as if he had painted it. I was crying as I read it and I believe that the Holy Spirit allowed me to see into Tom’s heart at that moment and finish his sentence:

’Possibly the most serene notion of this beautiful passage of time is that…I am the man in the boat’.

Please join me in prayer today that since he didn’t have the “contentment” and “serenity” he so hoped for in this life that he is enjoying both now wrapped in the arms of Our Blessed Mother in the presence of her Son.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

No one likes to embrace their crosses

Lily said she HATES math…especially math homework! She tried cajoling, manipulating, praying and pleading to keep from having to do it, but her mom told her she would have to sit at the kitchen table until she was finished, which made Lily think she would be there until bedtime.  “But I don’t like to do it!”, she said.  Alicia reminded her that in life we all must do some things we would rather not do but that are necessary for our success.  She still whined about it for about 10 minutes while we all went into the family room to watch a little TV.  She must have finally realized she should go ahead and get it done, because about 15 minutes later, we heard her shout “Hallelujah, I’m done!”  I thought the word ‘hallelujah’ was ironically appropriate for my meditation today.

No one likes to embrace their crosses (not even Jesus). We want to get rid of them, but the only way to experience the thrill of resurrection victory is to go through the cross. This means accepting our crosses instead of looking for the easy, most comfortable life.

Can you embrace your difficulties as you would a good friend? Indeed, that is what trials are: They are good friends if we let them bring us closer to God, if we let them mentor us into greater holiness, if we let them stretch our ability to love and to forgive those who make our journey unpleasant.

This is what it means to deny ourselves. It does not mean ignoring our own personal needs. Nor does it mean treating ourselves poorly. It does not mean that we become our own worst enemy.

Denying ourselves means that we "lose our lives", as Jesus describes it, in the crosses that we embrace rather than fight to protect the lives we'd rather have. Don't we want everything to go our way? And when things don't go our way, we want to cajole and manipulate and pray and plead to protect the illusion of how our lives "should" be (it's an illusion because it's our idea, but it's not reality), right?

We could, if we put enough effort into it, shape our lives into what we think is best for us. But what is the cost of that? Jesus says it destroys us. We lose touch with God. We lose human relationships. We lose ourselves in the process of getting what we want.

In today's first reading, Moses invited us to choose between God's ways and our own ways. He pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of our decisions.

Of course, we do want to do things God's way. We know that he's smarter than we are. But embracing our crosses and denying ourselves is painful, oh so painful!

There is only one way to do it: We must also embrace Jesus (and thus let him embrace us) as we cry our way through the Way of the Cross.

The joy that's available in suffering comes from knowing that Jesus is on our side, and from trusting our Father for a good future, and from being rooted in the Holy Spirit who affirms us, and from realizing that Jesus the Great Redeemer will transform every curse into a blessing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

But Lord, I worked so hard for everything!........

The bad news?  We are called to give up “everything” to follow Christ. (Mark 10:17-31) What does that mean?  By giving up everything, we are called to completely surrender our own will and preferences in life to serve Christ in accord with His divine plan.  This may take on many forms but, in the end, it’s always a call to give up everything.

The good news?  “Giving up everything” is nothing other than giving up our own selfish ideals and preferences in life.  The even better news is that the life He has in store for us is far better than we can dream of or imagine.  So, by saying “No” to our own will and doing things our own way, we are in fact saying “Yes” to doing things in the perfect way of God.
Why wouldn’t we want to seek only His will each and every day of our lives?  Why wouldn’t we want to serve Him and His perfect plan?  This may take on the form of service to our families.  Giving to them when we do not feel like doing so.  It may mean striving to find joy in small acts of service and love.  It may mean, for some, giving up all normal attachments in life and to seek His will in a more radical way.  Whatever the specific calling in life may be for you, it’s worth embracing God’s will.  
Have a happy Lent!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Facts matter.....

I can’t get the words “ever ancient, ever new” out of my head today.  Or the newest catch phrase in our political lexicon "facts matter".  I have been reading—or at least hearing—Scripture my entire life, either on my own or when I attend Mass. Today’s first reading for mass reminds me that no matter how much I think I know about the Bible, I learn something new every single time I read it.  Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit’s way of keeping me filled with a wonder of and a hunger for God’s Word.  Maybe it’s because I have a lot more time to read and think about every word or phrase that I read, now that I’m retired.  I don’t exactly know why, but one would think that after 65 years I would be able to tell the story of Noah’s ark to my children and grandchildren accurately.  After contemplating today’s first reading, apparently not.

Every children’s book I have ever seen or read to my kids or grandkids says that the animals went onto the ark “two by two”, so Noah took two of every kind of animal into the ark, right? Not exactly. The Bible states, “Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth” (Genesis 7:2–3).

How have I missed that my whole life after reading the actual Bible passage (or hearing it at mass) at least a thousand times?  Not only the number of creatures that were saved on the ark, but the types of creatures that were destroyed! 

“So the LORD said: ‘I will wipe out from the earth the men whom I have created, and not only the men, but also the beasts and the creeping things and the birds of the air, for I am sorry that I made them.’”

There is no mention of the fish or shellfish that live in the oceans being destroyed in the flood.  Only the men, beasts, ‘creeping things’, and the birds of the air.  I guess fish could be included in the term ‘creeping things’, but then why the phrase “so I will wipe out from the surface of the earth every moving creature that I have made.”?

I know.  The Bible is not meant to be read as a literal history of the world.  I’m just pointing out that I can be a lot better at paying attention to what I read and hear from now on.  Do I give my complete attention to my family, friends, or others that I should, and act accordingly?  Or do I skip over some important details, to make it easier to move on without much thought or effort on my part? And what of my obligations to the greater society and decisions I arrive at when participating in the public debate?  Do I pick and choose which facts to look at, or do I look for the whole Truth in what is being presented to me, then make an informed decision?  When examining my conscience at the end of the day, do I look a look at the sum of my decisions and actions and take responsibility for my shortcomings, or do I try to justify my poor performance in the eyes of God?

It’s funny how a simple sentence in the Bible can get me to think about my sins and how sorry I make God for making me, but also how great and merciful He is by sending His Son to save me from myself.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Why am I still hungry?

I love food, especially good food. Especially good Italian or Mexican food. These days, almost everyone shares lovely photos of food with their friends. However, no matter how good or interesting the food is, we are never satisfied.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the search for good food, but it highlights our hearts' desire for something more fulfilling, something that cannot be satisfied by food alone.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading: "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for 3 days and have nothing to eat" (Mark 8:2). His heart is also moved with pity for us, as we have been with Him for so long, yet we are still so hungry -- searching the world for ways to satisfy our hunger, be it through success, power, money, relationships, lustful desires, food, entertainment, travels, social media, etc.

Just like Adam and Eve in today’s Old Testament reading (Genesis 3:19-24), we have been tempted by the devil with the false promise that we will be satisfied when we eat the fruits of this world; yet every time we think we have satisfied a certain craving or desire, we find our hearts still yearning for more. More temptations will continue to lure us further -- many of which distract us from spending time with God, bringing us further and further away from Him, and sometimes even hiding from Him.

The truth is, God is the One for whom we are seeking and yearning. It is only in God that we are truly satisfied. Only in God do we find the truth and happiness we never stop searching for, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself.

Jesus gently reminds us in Matthew 4:4 that the bread we keep seeking for in the world can never satisfy our hunger. Instead, He offers us Himself, the Bread of Life who came down from Heaven. This is Whom we ultimately yearn for and Whom we can consume and be satisfied with at every Catholic Mass. He is also the Word of God satisfying our hunger for truth and happiness when we listen to Him speak to us and comfort us. Jesus calls to us: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mr. Steve--Religion Teacher?

Years ago (sometime in the mid-eighties, I think), Sister Enza asked me to teach CCD to St. Luke’s first graders on Saturdays. I still can’t figure out why she asked me.  Maybe it was because I provided the whole school with candy canes at Christmas time.  I worked at Thrifty Drug and got a discount.  My cost was 79 cents for a box of 50.  I would buy $20 worth every Christmas (sometimes more) and give them to Sister Enza for the school.   Maybe it was because Marilyn and I were at every children's mass at 11 a.m. like clockwork with our two kids in tow.  Maybe she was impressed with the level of understanding my daughters showed in their own CCD classes.  Whatever the reason, I reluctantly agreed.   
CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or “Catechism”) was pretty simple with first graders. It certainly wasn’t the Baltimore Catechism I was taught at that age. The lesson plan was mostly left up to me, so long as I taught the children the very basic things they should know about God—Who He is, why He created us, and about Jesus Christ in a very basic manner.
My first day was interesting, to say the least. There were, to my recollection, 5 girls and 5 boys. The girls were very quiet and eager to learn, and the boys wanted only to play. It quickly became apparent to me that I was going to have to get thinking on their level to get through to them and get them to listen to what I had to teach.  I thanked God that my inner self is still a 6-year-old boy, sometimes. 
I asked them, “What have you learned from Mommy and Daddy about God?” I asked this for two other reasons than the one above: first, I wanted to know what kind of support I would get in my teaching from the parents. Second, I wanted to have a starting point from which to begin.
The only answer I got from one of the girls, and the others all agreed, was that, “God loves me.” Aha! Now I had a reference point with which to begin. I asked one of the boys “Why?” He said, “Why what?”, as he wandered around the classroom looking for toys to play with.  I said, “Why does God love you?”
Before he could answer, I asked the rest of the class, “Why does God love all of you?” You could hear a pin drop. They wanted to know the answer. I told them I would give them the answer at the end of the semester if they hadn’t figured it out by then all by themselves.
It was all I needed to get their attention. I began to tell them what I wanted them to learn that first day, which was basically Genesis 1—the creation of the world. The language I used was something like, “God made the heavens and the earth and everything in it”.  Big mistake! That set the boys off going around the room again, pointing to everything from the chairs they had been sitting in to the chalkboard to the toys that were there, asking, “Did God make this? And this? And this?” I replied that He didn’t make them in the way they were thinking things were made. I made this question their homework for the week. I wanted them to ask their parents for the answer. I thanked God the hour was over. I assigned the children the prescribed homework assignment from their CCD workbook as well (I think it was a picture of God “hovering over the waters” and separating them into the seas and the dry land), telling them that the best coloring jobs would receive a surprise the following week. I also told them that a treat would be given for the best behaved each week. That first day I chose one of the girls for the best behaved (she was a little “mother” trying to help me rein in the boys), and I gave her a lollipop with the understanding that she would ask her parents before she ate it.
When the children had gone, Sister Enza came to me and asked how it went. I told her about my attempts at my first teaching job and my frustrations that I felt I probably didn’t teach them the lesson they were supposed to learn. She said, “Don’t worry. They’ll surprise you, I guarantee it!”
The next week, I pointed to the chair I was sitting in and asked one of the boys, “Who made this chair?” He said, “God”. I said, “That’s right! Do you know how?” Another of the children piped in, “God made the tree that was made into the wood for the seat!” Another said, “And He made the man who made the chair!” Yet another kid said, “And he taught the man who made the chair how to put it together!” Still another said, “And Mommy said He made ME, too!” I was so amazed at the answers they gave, and the thought that they had put into the homework, that they all received a lollipop that second week!
The following morning, which was Sunday, as my family and I were leaving Mass, one of my students’ parents came up to me and thanked me! She said her son loved me and the “stories” I was telling. She said he could hardly wait for Saturdays so he could go to school with “Mr. Steve.” She said a couple of the other parents had also expressed similar sentiments to her. I started to feel better about this “teaching” thing.
The rest of the year was a breeze. I had fun, and I learned more from those children about the innocent faith that Christ asks of all of us than I could ever teach them. Which is, I think, what Sister Enza had in mind all along. And yes, by the end of the semester the children (and me, too) all learned why God made us, and more importantly, why He loves us.
These kids are all in their mid-thirties with children of their own by now.  I wonder how much of what “Mr. Steve” taught them they remember, if they remember at all.  Most of all, I wonder if they still remember that God loves them, and why.  I pray that they do. 
Now that I'm retired, I am giving serious thought to the idea of volunteering to teach a low-grade level CCD again.  Or even something as simple as teaching youngsters how to pray the Rosary.  We'll see if the Holy Spirit concurs and helps me in my discernment.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Love is never divided, only multiplied

“It is not good for man to be alone.”—God, Genesis 2:18

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”—Adam, Genesis 2:23

“If we all give more to each other, we all end up with more for ourselves.” –My nephew Alex Farnsworth, in a Facebook post December 6, 2010

“Love is never divided, only multiplied.”—My reply to his post

You hear stories of people who say, “Our love grows every day”, or “We work hard to keep our love this strong.”  God has certainly blessed me, because my love for Marilyn is stronger today than it was when I proposed to her, and it’s never been an effort for me to be in love or to stay in love with her. I thank God every day that He created Marilyn so that I would not be alone.  I think often of what keeps our love for each other so strong.  It’s because we’ve never had to “work” at our love.  It is so hard to put into words because there are too many words to describe our love.  It just exists.

What has made our love stronger is discovering that love is never divided, only multiplied.  There is nothing like the love of a parent for a child. And that love strengthens the bond between the husband and wife.  When Marilyn told me she was pregnant, I was worried. I didn’t know anything about raising a child! Worse, would our baby require so much love from Marilyn that I would be less loved?  Alicia, from day 1 of her life, answered that question for me. When I was in the delivery room, I watched as Alicia’s face appeared and she looked right at me!  At that moment, I knew what paternal love is about; it’s an unconditional, no-holds-barred head-over-heels love that is complementary, not competitive with marital love, and nothing can take it away.

A couple of years later, Marilyn told me she was pregnant again. Again, I was worried. I loved Alicia so much, how could I ever love another child so much? Would I have to “split” my love for them? Again, I didn’t have to worry. The minute Sarah was born, God gave me the grace to multiply my paternal love. I love each of my daughters the same—boundlessly. It has given me an understanding of just how much our Heavenly Father must love each of us!

I rediscovered this feeling at the birth of each of my grandchildren.  There is Lily, who brightens my life every single day with her own discoveries of love for God and others.  Josephine is every bit a reminder of the curiosity and unfettered love we all begin our lives with.  Paloma (‘Dove’, in Latin), is named for the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and she reminds me of the third person of the Trinity Who is best described as the Love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father.

Is there a limit to the love we can get or receive?  God allows us to set the limit.  The more we give, the more we receive.  My question is, why would anyone want to stop giving or receiving love? 

Monday, February 11, 2019

The evening and the morning are filled with the goodness of God.

Marilyn, Alicia and Lily went to Legoland today, leaving me (at my request) alone at the hotel on the beach in Carlsbad. I brought along the book “Jesus, A Pilgrimage” written by Father James Martin, SJ to read while sitting on the patio waiting for their return. But I haven't picked it up yet. I decided to read the Scripture for mass this morning and write a reflection instead. I'm glad I did. The Holy Spirit has a way of speaking to me that continually surprises me while at the same time freaks me out in a pleasant sort of way.

As I sit here gazing out to the ocean and listening to the waves crash onshore no more than 100 feet away from me, I realize all of creation is a reflection of God and an opportunity to worship him.

The first verses of Genesis (Genesis 1: 1-19) speak of the earth as a formless wasteland where darkness covered the abyss. God decides to create. He orders, organizes, gathers, and shapes the formless stuff into something nothing short of magnificent. To do this, He only needs to speak the word. Then, after the creation occurs, He stands back, looks at His creation and says, "Man, that is good!" I thought about the use of the exact words in the book. It's not simply that he thinks his creation is good. He sees just "how good it was." It reminds me of those times when I help Lily with her Legos. We build different things with them, we say “Wow! Look what we did!”, then we can play make believe with the results. There is joy that comes from taking a bunch of scraps and seeing what can be done with them.

The psalm for today includes parts of Psalm 104. The psalmist calls upon his inner being to bless the Lord. God is so great; His robe is majesty, glory, and light. God organized everything so that it works together beautifully. The earth and the ocean each have their place. The fuller reading of the psalm really emphasizes how everything has its own role but complements the rest of creation. For example, God places birds in the sky but then also gives them branches from which they can send forth their song. What would the birds do without branches? God takes care of the seemingly insignificant parts of His world. He sees it all and says, "Man, that's good." How much more does He take care of us, who He made in His own image and likeness?

In the Gospel reading we continue to see the creative power of God at work in Jesus. Jesus is both fully human AND fully divine. So being human, like His disciples, He gets tired and has times when He tries to get away from the crush of people who want His attention. However, they always seem to find Him. They want to hear from Him and they want to be cured of their illnesses or bring their relatives and friends to be healed. Jesus cannot speak to everyone or lay hands on everyone. The people discover, though, that this is not necessary. "If only we can touch the tassel on his cloak...." And all who touch it are healed. Jesus frequently got angry when He saw how illness or demonic possession could twist a human being into knots and make their lives miserable. When the people are healed, I see Jesus, just like in creation, standing back and saying, "Man, that is good."

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Communication and Trust

If my 48 years in management taught me anything, it was that every goal was successfully accomplished only if a plan was formulated. Then tasks were delegated, communicated, executed and followed up.  At every company I worked for, they all had catchy anagrams for this process.  Some had several.  At U-Haul, they had 3 that I was particularly fond of and used a lot; IFDOAS (Intelligently Follow the Directions of a Superior), DOAB (Do Our Absolute Best), and my “go to” method for getting things done was RAA (Responsibility, Authority, Accountability).  For any of these to work, you need to identify those who will be the most effective, arm them with the knowledge and tools they will need, then check back with them frequently to gauge their progress and supplement their authority, if needed.  It usually helps to be with them there in spirit, if not in person to give them the confidence that they are on the right track.  They have to know that you will back them up, even if they make a mistake, which they will! 

I see this process being used by Jesus in today’s gospel (Mark 6:7-13).


The first thing that is worth pointing out in this passage is that Jesus “summoned” the Twelve.  This means He brought them to Himself.  Sure, we can read this as simply meaning that He, in a sense, called a meeting with them to discuss His plan.  But we should look deeper.  We should see in this summoning the fact that Jesus was not only calling a meeting, but rather, He was drawing them to His very person.  In this act of summoning, the Apostles were personally encountering Jesus, receiving His grace and power, and being changed themselves. He also summons each of us, daily, to Himself.


So what is the authority that Jesus gave the Apostles then, and gives to us, now?  It’s often not appreciated for what it is.  Jesus very much does want to give us authority over the evil one and his minions since they are far more powerful than us.  So, if we are to have a chance in the battle, we need Jesus’ authority.  This is not only some supernatural power to cast out demons; rather, it’s much more extensive.  How do we exercise this authority given to us by Jesus Christ through our baptism?

Through the power of true Christian charity.  Charity, or love, overwhelms the evil one and renders him powerless in our lives.  Selflessness, sacrifice, humility, faith, truth, and honesty are among the most powerful weapons in our battle.  The evil one does not know what to do with these.  We do not necessarily have to engage in some sort of dramatic spiritual warfare to do battle.  Simply love God and live that love in your daily life and you will, in a sense, be casting out demons left and right!  We will have the victory in our Christian living because God will take care of all the rest.  It’s His mission and He is the one summoning and sending us.  Do not be afraid to follow His lead! He gives us the authority and power we need to fulfill His will.  If we are open to this process our Lord will use us abundantly.


From there He sent them out two by two.  This is also significant.  Jesus knows our human weakness.  He knows that by ourselves we will most likely fail, but with the Christian support of another we are greatly strengthened.  This is because Jesus’ mission is not only something we do ourselves, it’s something that is communal as well.  We are each one piece in His mission. However, to fulfill that mission, we need the love and support of others.  We need to go two by two into the battle. He sends us forth to bring His love to others.

Sadly, in today’s world, it seems the two things headed for extinction are communicating with strangers and trusting in their innate goodness. Our culture is becoming polarized and all too often focused on talking only to people with whom we share a small view of the world and distrusting everyone else’s view or comment. Maybe if we were willing to embark on a pilgrimage such as the 12 Apostles did in today’s gospel, without out all the “baggage” we carry with us of preconceived notions, we might be able to communicate more openly with others and realize that we need their trust and understanding as much as they need ours.

Friday, February 1, 2019

I'm just a seed in the Kingdom of God

O, to be like one of the disciples, to whom Jesus explained everything in private as the Gospel lesson in Mark tells us (Mk 4:26-34).  What did He tell them about the Kingdom of God that He did not tell the crowds of ordinary people to whom He spoke through parables? Did He make God’s message clearer to them? I don’t know the answer to that. But what can be much clearer than the image of a tiny mustard seed growing to become a large plant or a kernel of corn growing to a plant that yields a thousand-fold in the harvest? Even a child can understand these images of the Kingdom of God as a reality that expands miraculously as our faith grows.

 Jesus wants to use each one of us for the building up of His Kingdom.  We may feel as though we cannot do much, that we are not as gifted as others, that we will not be able to make much of a difference, but that’s not true.  The truth is that each one of us is packed with unbelievable potential that God wants to bring to fruition.  He wants to bring forth from our lives glorious blessings for the world.  All we must do is allow Him to work.

Like a seed, we must allow ourselves to be planted in the fertile soil of His mercy through faith and surrender to His divine will.  We must be watered by daily prayer and allow the rays of the Son of God to shine on us so that He can bring forth from us all that He desires and has planned from the foundation of the world. 

But can we simply live by faith? While the idea is not complicated, the practice seems to be for most of us. We lose our confidence and our faith dims. We struggle with suffering and we draw back, seeking more certainty, more details, and more reassurance. We see in Hebrews (Heb 10:32-39) and the Psalms (Ps 37:3-4, 5-6, 23-24, 39-40) that during times of affliction, we should be even more confident that God’s will and the Kingdom of God are our refuge. Even while suffering, we need to endure and continue to do the will of God to keep our lives on track. Trusting in the Lord and doing the will of God will make our steps surer and give us more confidence in God’s promises.

We will experience distressing times in life where we will lose our confidence in ourselves and in our faith. Those distresses can shake our beings and threaten our sense of our very identities. When that happens, we should draw on our baptism experience and the promises God made to love us and care for us as a member of the body of Christ. Drawing closer to HIm is how we can experience the Kingdom of God and live by faith in confidence and without fear.  If we could just love each other and reassure each other of God’s love, we would see the Kingdom of God grow miraculously.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Are you a reflection of the Light of Jesus?

We all have a light within us, and this light is a gift from God. The lights within us are wonderful and unique, and it’s our job to let these lights within us shine for others to see. Our lights can be anything from having compassion or the gift of humor or even just having the ability to be a good friend and listener to others in need. The lights within us shouldn’t be covered or placed “under a bushel basket” (Mk 4:21-25); instead we should let these gifts that God gave us shine so brightly that all those we interact with throughout the day feel the worth of our love and the love of God.
Think of the Word of God as light.  Just by hearing God’s Word we have a light within us.  We’ve all heard that we are loved and saved by Jesus and we are called to spread this message to everyone we meet, especially those who are stuck in a dark time. We need to be the light in their lives giving them the courage and strength to let their own lights shine bright. Even though we may be faced with dark times and obstacles we need to make sure that our lights are still shining brightly.  Jesus’ words turn the darkness to light and fill our lives and the world with light and hope.  We cannot just take God’s love and mercy for granted; we need to make sure that we are spreading His love to everyone.
We will be dealt with, by God, in the same way we deal with others.  (Mark 4:24)
God has placed into our lives people who need us to encourage them into greater holiness, greater love, and greater generosity in good works. But he has also given these people to us so that we will grow in holiness, love and good works.  Isn't that a scary bit of irony!
Ideally, we will show mercy and goodness to others simply because it’s the right thing to do.  God calls us to a life of abundant charity, and we should desire to live that life.  But if we struggle with charity toward others, perhaps one motivating factor could be to realize that we will be treated in the same way that we act toward others.
Though this may put a certain “holy fear” in our hearts and encourage us to act with mercy, it should also call us to desire to go beyond the basics and to offer love and compassion in an abundant and unselfish way.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Just be you!

Every day, I try to prepare myself for mass by reviewing the Scripture passages that will be read. I was pretty excited for today’s readings, because all three point to hope and joy.

The first reading from the Old Testament and the Gospel are very similar in that a passage from Scripture is read and words of fulfillment of God’s promises are explained to those who are present. 

As the reading from Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) points out, we are now the Body of Christ on earth. This passage is quite detailed, as Paul breaks down exactly what he means by the description.

I was a little disappointed when the lector opted to read the abbreviated version of the passage, leaving out the details that make the description of the Body of Christ so easy to understand that even a child can get it.  What made the decision even more disappointing to me is that the mass today was the kickoff for Catholic Schools Week, and a lot of the teachers and students were in attendance.  I’m sure that the more detailed reading would have been appreciated by the students.

Basically, what Paul is telling the Corinthians—and us—is that we are all—every one of us—important parts of this body! Do not underestimate yourself. God created you and brought you into the world because you can make a significant difference. No one else can do what you can do, the way you can do it, in the plans that he has for making this world a better place.

As if to validate my interpretation, my attention was drawn to a T-shirt that was worn by a little girl as she walked past me after her mom received Communion that read “Just Be You…Because No One Else Can!”

Whenever the prayers of others are not answered, whenever the evil one is allowed to prevail, whenever souls suffer because they have not heard the good news of salvation in Jesus, it's because the parts of Christ's earthly body that can do something about it are not doing it. God provides everything that's needed on earth through us! Jesus continues his ministry on earth through us!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

WWJD? Baptism opens our ears, eyes and mouths

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  This is a beautiful culmination of the Christmas season during which we have been praying about the incarnation of God becoming human in the birth of the baby Jesus for the purpose of our salvation. 

As I read Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) I am overwhelmed by the deep faith of the people who followed John to the river to be baptized.  I am moved by their quiet hope and curiosity:  The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.

John clarifies his role and assures the people that Christ is coming by telling them:

"I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

But rather than arriving in a blaze of glory, the 30-year-old Jesus quietly gets in line with the others and gracefully asks John to baptize him.  From the beginning of his public ministry Jesus provides a template of how we should live with humility.  I wonder how I might have reacted when as Jesus was praying after being baptized by John, I see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and hear the voice from heaven proclaiming: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

It is very important to me that my daughters and Lily were baptized (still waiting on Josephine and Paloma, but I pray that it is soon), and I always take the renewal of my baptismal promises seriously.  Baptism reveals the equality and dignity of every human being, leads us to imitate Christ’s example and makes us disciples to the world.  Baptism requires us to reject sin and evaluate our values, decisions and lifestyles.  Baptism “initiates” us into a life with Christ and opens our eyes to see the blessings and graces that God bestows upon us. 

As I write this, I am thinking of the familiar images of the trio of monkeys sitting in a row with one covering his ears, one his eyes, and the last his mouth.  The saying that accompanies the image is “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, and Speak No Evil.”  Baptism opens our ears, eyes and mouths to Christ and allows us to “Hear the Truth, See the Truth, and Speak the Truth.”  This is the legacy I hope to pass to my descendants through baptism.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Learn to open the vault

When you read a lot of the stories of the Saint’s lives, there is one theme that seems to come up again and again; most of them didn’t set out to be saints. Many did not even know Christ until He called out to them. And He revealed Himself to them always when they were at their lowest points of self-esteem, when they had seemingly lost it all. At these points in our lives we always look “inward”, towards our souls for guidance, and we should think of our soul as a “bank”, where nothing exists except a love for God.

It seems to me that it is “human” nature that we seek Christ out only as a last resort even though, deep down, our souls are aware that all we need to do to lighten our burdens is to give them to Christ, Who asked us to trust in His mercy. But instead, we ignore our soul’s request that we go to the One who created us in His own image, and pretend that it is we who have power over our own lives. The saints are those who have found the key to “open the vaults” in their souls and give small portions of the total love found there to others.

So how can I find the key to open my soul’s vault? I think the answer is found through silence, prayer, fasting (my hardest obstacle!)and persistence.

Take for example the case of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-16)

Elijah had been faithful to the Lord and all that was requested of him. But now it seemed everyone was out to kill him, because he had been speaking out against the wrongs the Israelites had been doing to God, and he was afraid for his life. Elijah is told to go outside the cave and “listen for the Lord, who will be passing by.” Elijah expects the Lord when the hurricane comes, but He is not there. Then an earthquake occurs, and the Lord is not there. Then a fire! The Lord did not come in any of these spectacular events, as Elijah assumed He would. The Lord finally “whispers” in the silence. I think it is interesting that God doesn’t deliver Elijah from his fears immediately, as Elijah hopes. God actually requires that Elijah show even more love through obedience by confronting those who are out to kill him! And, of course, God does eventually reward Elijah by sending a fiery chariot to lift him to Heaven!

Sometimes we look for God to come into our lives with the blaring of horns and flashing of lights, as Elijah did. Or we look for “signs”. If we would just sit in silence and speak to Him, He will come and speak to us. As Jesus said, (Matthew 6:6) “Go into your inner rooms and pray to your God in private. And the Father who sees all that is private will answer.” Our “inner rooms” could be interpreted two ways that come to my mind right away.

The first is literally. Find a quiet room and pray in earnest. Or (one of my favorites) find a church that offers perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I have never left the Adoration Chapel feeling anxious or hopeless!

The second is figuratively, and the way I feel the Lord is speaking to me most often. My soul becomes my “inner room”.  When I listen fervently with all my soul and with the only intention of love for God, I will not be denied His presence.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Love Unconditionally

I'm sorry I haven't posted for about a week and a half; my frequent "Winter Visitor"--AKA 'severe' colds--has had me pretty much bed-ridden for that time.  I haven't neglected praying with the readings for the day, but I haven't felt well enough to write reflections.  Here is my reflection on the first reading today.
By loving others, we come to know God. This means that when an irritating person angers us and we respond with an argument or retaliation or anything else unloving, we don't know God well enough. If we knew him better, we'd be appalled at the idea of treating anyone that way, no matter what they've done.
When we fight off the impulse to strike back at those who hurt and dismay us, responding to every person in every situation with unconditional love, forgiveness, patience, and (if possible) an act of kindness, we gain a fuller understanding of God, because this is how he treats us, whether we deserve it or not.
Unconditional love does not mean that we tolerate evil. It means doing good to troublemakers while standing firm behind the boundaries of truth that keep us united to God. Our boundaries invite other people to trade up to a holier, healthier life. This is how God deals with our sinfulness; thus, by doing to others what the Lord does to us, we learn more about him. We develop a better understanding of how he rejects sin while embracing the sinner.
To understand God better, we must love those who are the most difficult to love, since God is Love Itself. When we categorize certain people as outside the realm of those whom we will love, this comes from our ignorance about God's way of embracing diversity. By condemning them as unworthy of our attention and time, we use that as permission to ignore them and avoid them, which is so unlike God that this could only happen because we don't know him.
God loves you and me so much that he doesn't leave us in this mess of ignorance! The Father gave us Jesus as an offering -- an expiation -- for our sins (1 John 4:7-10). When we fail to love everyone all the time, we're relying on our feelings and our limited human ability to love, which is very inadequate. To succeed at love, we have to rely on the ability of Jesus to love. We have to let him supernaturally love others through us.
To succeed at love, we have to rely on what love truly is: It is God's gift to us. He loves you so much that the Father sent the Son to take your sins upon himself in an awesome deed of great suffering and sacrifice. Such a powerful love never fails. When loving others is difficult, get in touch with God's love for you. He wants to kiss your wounds and heal your heart and defend your goodness.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Modern-day Holy Innocents

The Bible presents King Herod as a cruel ruler, ambitious to the point of paranoid jealousy when it came to potential rivals, especially a “newborn king”.  We can learn a lesson from Herod, the one who dictated an order to kill all children under the age of two born in Bethlehem in an effort to retain his throne. He had obviously acquired wealth and power didn’t want to lose it, no matter the consequences.
I think a comparison can be made between Herod and modern-day folks who confuse immigrants with refugees, and the ‘intentions’ of both groups of people. There are some who label all refugees and immigrants as “illegal aliens”, and all must be purged from our society, guilty of crimes or not.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. I wonder how many people today would consider that the Holy Family were refugees, having had to leave their homeland to escape the violence that threatened them at home. Refugees do not leave their homeland on a whim, but rather seeking to live in security. They leave behind everything, except their human dignity, which we all –individuals and governments– need to respect.
An immigrant may be a refugee or may simply be someone hoping to find a better life for himself and his family.
Because our immigration laws in this country are so screwed up that they confuse even the people who write, legislate, enforce and defend them, abuses do occur.  Then some ‘Herods’ in our society label all immigrants and refugees as thieves and murderers.  Yes, there have been crimes committed by non-citizens, and justice must be handed out with due process. But if you search your heart honestly, you realize that more crimes are committed by natural born citizens than by ‘illegal aliens’.  Stop with the hate.  Fix the immigration laws quickly with an eye toward justice for all and allowances for those who are already living otherwise law-abiding lives.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Padding his resume,or just stating facts?

In the gospel of John, he refers to himself as ‘the other disciple whom Jesus loved.’  I like that he includes himself as part of the group, but the intimation is there that he felt he was ‘special’. Was that John’s role in the group of followers?

Since Jesus was fully human, He must have needed the comfort and support of a friend He could trust and relax with just like the rest of us. Did John tease Jesus and make Him laugh? Did he just listen when things were tense? It’s obvious that they prayed together but did they relax over a beer or a glass or wine? I try to envision Jesus and John as human pals instead of simply ‘Master’ and ‘servant’. What kind of a guy was John that gave him a unique place among the Disciples?

We get a feel for John’s wish to share his friendship with Jesus in the first reading in which he invites us into fellowship with “the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”  There was nothing selfish in this friendship – rather a desire to share it with generations to come. While we can’t hang out with Jesus as John did, we can emulate his qualities that will help us find friendship with Jesus.

I find him to be a person whom I would like to imitate in his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus. 

First and probably most important, he was loyal. When the others deserted Jesus on the cross, John was there, taking care of Mary. Jesus must have known that he could count on John under the worst of conditions. Like John, if we want to be friends of Jesus, we must be faithful and care for others. That kind of faithfulness can take courage such as John exhibited in refusing to desert Jesus when others did.

When he finally entered the empty tomb, "he saw and believed."  In these simple words St. John tells us a lot.  He tells us that the arrangement of the burial cloths and the head covering that had covered the body of Jesus led him to understand that grave robbers had not been at work here.  It also led him to conclude that the Roman authorities had not moved the body of Jesus.  If either grave robbers or the Romans had moved the body, they would not have removed the burial cloths and the head covering.  And they would not have undone the work of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to embalm the body.  John realized all these things as soon as he entered the empty tomb.  This demonstrates St. John's perceptiveness.  Neither St. Peter nor Mary Magdalene was able to draw such a conclusion.  Indeed, Mary speaks as though convinced that someone had moved the body. 

St. John listened very carefully to the words and teaching of Jesus.  On this occasion he must have recalled the words of Jesus when He predicted His Resurrection.  He was also a faithful disciple of Jesus who was absolutely convinced that following Jesus was the most important thing in his life.  And so, because of what he saw and what he believed, St. John concluded that Jesus Himself had somehow arranged for the empty tomb, and that He had indeed risen. 

The others believed when they saw the risen body of Jesus on that first Easter day.  Mary Magdalene saw Jesus in the garden after Peter and John had left.   The disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus that evening.  St. Peter and the other apostles (except Thomas) saw Jesus that night in Jerusalem.  But St. John came to believe when he entered the empty tomb on Easter morning, hours before his first sight of the Risen Lord that night.  For me, there is deep meaning in the words of St. John when he says very simply: "he saw and believed."  During his life St. John gave us a very attractive example of how to follow Jesus.  Today on his feast we ask St. John to help us to follow his example and to have the kind of faith and devotion to Jesus that he did.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Great things come in small packages

My parents were not wealthy.  Not in the financial sense, anyway.  So, every birthday or Christmas that rolled around, the phrase “Good things come in small packages” was used often as we children voiced our preference and waited in anticipation for the newest gadget or biggest present.  When we heard that phrase, it was a “code” to let us know we were probably not going to get what we wanted, but more than likely what we needed.  In time, my brothers and I learned that what we needed was much more satisfying than what we wanted.

That memory was the first I thought of while listening to the 1st reading at mass this morning.

The first reading talks about the little town of Bethlehem that seemed too small and insignificant to make any difference for anything but is remembered and revered (and sung about in Christmas carols) to this day as the birthplace of the savior whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” 

In the Gospel, when the pregnant Mary visits the pregnant Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby (who will be John the Baptist) recognizes the Lord who will be born this week. The baby leaps for joy in his mother’s womb.  John will be the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord. And we spend Advent making our spiritual and secular preparations. 

This week is Christmas. In present tense we celebrate his birth. We should leap for joy today in anticipation of “Great gift” of the “Little Child” born of the “Little Woman” in the “Little Town” of Bethlehem Who will save us. The Lord is come. This week the Lord is born, and he continues to live in our lives and in our hearts.