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, December 13, 2018

G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time)

“Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  (Matthew 11:11)

Too often we measure our lives from a worldly point of view.  We look for greatness here and now and fail to recognize that eternity is what matters most. 

Heaven must be our goal.  It must be the purpose of our life.  What good is it if we obtain much greatness in this world and fail to make it to Heaven?

Think about it.  What will you rejoice in for all eternity?  Will you rejoice in the fact that you accomplished this or that in this world?  That you made lots of money?  That you were praised by many in this world?  No, from Heaven none of this will matter.  What will matter is one thing: charity.

What is “charity”? 

Charity is the last and the greatest of the three theological virtues; the other two are faith and hope. While it is often called love and confused in the popular understanding with common definitions of the latter word, charity is more than a subjective feeling or even an objective action of the will toward another person. Like the other theological virtues, charity is supernatural in the sense that God is both its origin and its object. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., writes in his "Modern Catholic Dictionary", charity is the "infused supernatural virtue by which a person loves God above all things for his [that is, God's] own sake, and loves others for God's sake." Like all virtues, charity is an act of the will, and the exercise of charity increases our love for God and for our fellow man; but because charity is a gift from God, we cannot initially acquire this virtue by our own actions.

Charity depends on faith, because without faith in God we obviously cannot love God, nor can we love our fellow man for God's sake. Charity is, in that sense, the object of faith, and the reason why Saint Paul, in ​1 Corinthians 13:13, declares that "the greatest of these [faith, hope, and charity] is charity."

Like the other theological virtues (and unlike the cardinal virtues, which can be practiced by anyone), charity is infused by God into the soul at baptism, along with sanctifying grace (the life of God within our souls). Properly speaking then, charity, as a theological virtue, can only be practiced by those who are in a state of grace. The loss of the state of grace through mortal sin, therefore, also deprives the soul of the virtue of charity. Deliberately turning against God because of attachment to the things of this world (the essence of mortal sin) is obviously incompatible with loving God above all things. The virtue of charity is restored by the return of sanctifying grace to the soul through the Sacrament of Confession.

God, as the source of all life and all goodness, deserves our love, and that love is not something that we can confine to attending church services on Sundays. We exercise the theological virtue of charity whenever we express our love for God, but that expression does not have to take the form of a verbal declaration of love. Sacrifice for God's sake; the curbing of our passions in order to draw closer to Him; the practice of the spiritual works of mercy in order to bring other souls to God, and the corporal works of mercy to show the proper love and respect for God's creatures -- these, along with prayer and worship, fulfill our duty to "love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind" (Matthew 22:37). Charity fulfills this duty, but also transforms it; through this virtue, we desire to love God not simply because we must but because we recognize that (in the words of the Act of Contrition) He is "all good and deserving of all of my love." The exercise of the virtue of charity increases that desire within our souls, drawing us further into the inner life of God, which is characterized by the love of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Thus, Saint Paul rightly refers to charity as "the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14), because the more perfect our charity, the closer our souls are to the inner life of God.

While God is the ultimate object of the theological virtue of charity, His creation -- especially our fellow man -- is the intermediate object. Christ follows the "greatest and first commandment" in Matthew 22 with the second, which is "like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). As I wrote earlier, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy toward our fellow man can fulfill our duty of charity toward God; but it is perhaps a little harder to see how a love of self is compatible with loving God above all things. And yet Christ assumes self-love when He enjoins us to love our neighbor. That self-love, though, is not vanity or pride, but a proper concern with the good of our body and soul because they were created by God and sustained by Him. Treating ourselves with disdain -- abusing our bodies or placing our souls in danger through sin -- ultimately shows a lack of charity toward God. Likewise, disdain for our neighbor -- who, as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) makes clear, is everyone with whom we come into contact -- is incompatible with love of the God Who made him as well as us.

Or, to put it another way, to the extent that we truly love God -- to the extent that the virtue of charity is alive in our souls -- we will also treat ourselves and our fellow man with the proper charity, caring for both body and soul.

The charity we live here and now will radiate from our lives forever in Heaven.  Even if our charity is not seen by others, it will be seen in Heaven.  Charity is the result of a life lived fully surrendered to Christ.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Our three-fold call to holiness through Baptism

Yesterday, my granddaughter Lily asked me to help her with some 4th grade religion homework.

She had a paper divided into 3 columns with the headers Priest, Prophet, and King.  She was to read the chapter in her religion textbook and come up with a short phrase to describe her responsibility in each of the roles as a baptized Catholic.  

Under “Priest” she had written “to pray”.  I thought that it was a good start, but a little incomplete, so I asked her to think about what else a priest is called upon to do.  She thought about it, and added, “and to be holy”.  I couldn’t argue with that!  After a little more discussion, I convinced her that we could put our heads together and come up with a description for each column tying them up with a common thread.

Here is basically what we came up with:

To practice the faith-to be holy and pray with and for others.
To teach the faith-help others in their holiness through our example.
To share the faith- through service to others, especially the poor.

This homework assignment was a pretty good reminder for me of the sublime dignity conferred on all of us through our baptisms. We, too, must embrace these shared offices of priest, prophet, and king.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear about the priestly office.

Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ. … “to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people …” (1 Peter 2:9). Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers (CCC, 1267, 1268).

There are two participations in the one priesthood of Christ. There is a ‘common priesthood’ and a ‘ministerial priesthood’. Ordained priests, by Holy Orders, become members of the ministerial priesthood. Yet the common priesthood designates all the baptized. Sharing in the priesthood of Christ begins at one’s Baptism.

The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood worship together at Mass. We are a priestly community. The lay faithful worship alongside the ordained priest(s). Both make offerings to God. The priest is specifically ordained to confect the Eucharist — to offer and consecrate the bread and wine — on behalf of those gathered. The laity, too, actively participate by offering themselves and their gifts and sacrifices to God.

Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6, see 5:9–10; 1 Peter 2:5,9). … The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king (CCC, 1546).

Besides the priestly office, there is also a prophetic and a kingly one. In the ministerial priesthood, these are fulfilled by preaching and teaching and in governance of the Church.

In the common priesthood, with faith and the grace of the sacraments, we must bring Christ to our families, towns, and the wider culture. The faithful are sent out from Mass to go and serve Christ wherever life takes them. They are very much in the front lines for Christianity, to consecrate the world, to make it holy.

We act prophetically when we speak the truth, and live the Gospel by example before our families, neighbors, and co-workers. Our mission is “accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (CCC, 905).

Our kingly office is exercised by our leadership in temporal affairs, acting as Christ would. Jesus, the king of heaven, gave his life to conquer sin and death, to bring resurrection and new life. By bringing Christ’s leadership and governance in our own spheres, we offer renewal and new life where it is most needed.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The unspoken faith of my father was an "incredible thing"

We have seen incredible things today. (Luke 5:26)

The power Jesus received from His Father in Heaven to forgive sins on earth is certainly at the core of this Gospel. But the power of faith also teaches that the bigger our faith, the better a friend we make! When the paralyzed man's unwavering friends couldn't get him in front of Jesus because the stretcher was too unwieldy to bring through the crowd, they carried him up to the roof and lowered him through the roof tiles into the middle of the crowd right in front of Jesus! What a struggle that must have been! While this act of love isn't as astonishing as Jesus healing the man, we must ask ourselves – would we go that far for one of our friends?

Reading and hearing this gospel today, the day after the Feast Day of Saint Juan Diego and two days before the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, reminds me of a story my mom told me several times about my dad that, to me, speaks volumes about what true faith is in real life and the lengths to how far some will go to help others in their faith.

Some of the details are sketchy, but here is what I remember:

Mom and Dad lived in Mexico for a short while early on in their marriage. They lived, in Mom’s words “within shouting distance” of the local convent.  When the nuns found out Dad was a pretty good handyman and fluent in Spanish, he was often called upon to help them fix things when they were broken.  Mom said that despite not being paid for his efforts, Dad never complained.  He told Mom that the smiles (and sometimes the lunches) the ‘ladies’ gave him was enough.

Every December 12th, the nuns would put on a play for the community to help celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  One year, they enlisted my dad’s help in building a lot of the props for their play and, as usual, he did a terrific job.  The night before the play was to take place the nuns reached out to my dad for another favor.  They explained that the man they had been “grooming” to play the part of Juan Diego fell ill suddenly and would not be able to perform the next day.  Then they asked my dad if he would fill in!  He reminded them that he was not Catholic, and actually “Mormon in name only”, they replied “That’s OK!  It’s not a speaking part.  You just have to do a bit of walking and wear the cloak we’ve made.  You won’t even have to rehearse. But you are the only one who can save our presentation!”  He took the ‘part’ and ‘saved’ the day (at least in the eyes of the nuns)!

I laughed every time my mom told me this story!  But I also keep it in my heart to remind me of the power of love for our neighbor.  It was this story, and countless others like it that my mother told me about Dad that proves what a close priest friend told Mom as Dad lay dying in the hospital—“Cappy is more Catholic than a lot of ‘catholics’ I’ve ever met!”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Does my soul magnify the Lord?

The Magnificat, taken from Luke’s Gospel (1:46-55), is the Blessed Virgin Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord. It is also known as the Canticle of Mary in the Liturgy of the Hours, a special collection of scripture readings, psalms, and hymns that constitute what is known as the prayer of the church. (Priests and other religious are required to pray sections from the Liturgy of the Hours each day.)

Mary proclaims the Lord’s greatness with characteristic humility and grace here.

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;

Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is His name;

And His mercy is from generation to generation

on those who fear Him.

He has shown might with His arm,

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy

Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

The Magnificat provides great material for meditation on the Visitation, the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, pictured above. When the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she is to be the Mother of God, he also tells her of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist.

After Mary gives her famous consent to becoming the Mother of God, -- “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38) -- she goes “with haste” (1:39) to help Elizabeth, who is delighted to see her. Our Lady then expresses her joy in the Magnificat.

Clearly Mary, in hastening to help her cousin, is focused on service to others. In this way she glorifies the Lord in reflecting (and “magnifying”) His goodness and love. And, of course by becoming the Mother of God she will help Him redeem us for our salvation in His Passion!

Note that Mary’s joyful claim that “all generations shall call me blessed” in no way takes away from her humility. If she seems to boast here, it is much as St. Paul does later on in scripture when he says “whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17), that is to say, in God’s work being done through us.

In this regard, the Magnificat is more than a prayer of praise. It also reminds us about the essential link between humility and holiness. Just as God has “regarded the lowliness of his handmaid” and “has done great things” for Mary in making her the Mother of his Son, so too “he has put down the mighty from their thrones (with his own might!) and has exalted the lowly.”

(Note also our Blessed Mother’s humility in referring to herself in this prayer, as she does in giving her consent to Gabriel mentioned earlier, as the Lord’s handmaid, his servant!)

As her Divine Son later stressed “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt 23:12, also in slightly different words in Luke 18:14 and Luke 14:11).

Jesus wasn’t saying anything new here, either! We read similar thoughts in throughout the Old Testament such as in the Psalms and in this example from the book of Sirach “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” (Sirach 3:19)

The line about God filling “the hungry with good things” resonates later in the Gospels as well, when our Lord says “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled” (Matt 5:7). This serves as a good reminder for us to “stay hungry” for God’s graces in praying and in reading His word in scripture.

And as for the rich being sent away empty? This line refers to those who live for wealth and power and feel they have everything figured out. These people in, effect wish to be Gods rather than God’s. How can our Lord fill those who are already full--of themselves?

How about you? Does your soul magnify the Lord? We may never be able to approach Him from Mary’s level of sanctity as the Mother of God. Still, we are all called to be saints nonetheless.

Your good example, like our Blessed Mother’s, can help others in their spiritual growth. Do people see Christ’s love and goodness in you? Are you letting God work within you to accomplish His will? Let Mary help give you the graces you need to follow her Son and His Church in praying the Magnificat.

As St. Ambrose once said in referring to this wonderful prayer, "Let Mary's soul be in us to glorify the Lord; let her spirit be in us that we may rejoice in God our Saviour."

Friday, December 7, 2018

A question of faith

... the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I can do this?" (Matthew 9:28)
If Jesus were to ask me the above question while I sit each evening reciting the rosary, I hope that I could answer, "Yes, Lord, I believe!" But I'm not sure I could honestly reply that way. I'm more likely to reply, "I do believe; help my unbelief!"
I think that this is the true work of prayer, working at belief, practicing belief. Whenever I pray, no matter where I am, I am, now that I ponder it, truly expressing belief, however much my mind doubts. It is truly an act of faith, not of certainty, to sit, day after day, when my mind is mostly asking for help with my unbelief.
It strikes me that having faith means having doubt, but at the same time, hope. If we have no doubt, we have certainty--which I don't believe is faith. So, by practicing my prayer in faith, I am always practicing in confident hope, despite my doubt. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Faith is our house built on rock

Jesus is more than an authority we must obey. To know Jesus is to know what he's all about (his purpose, his love, and his life). Salvation is placing our faith in this to such an extent that we want to follow him, doing what he does, changing the world around us, all the way to heaven.
We can believe in Jesus and yet remain in the darkness of sin and eternal death. To have faith in Jesus, we must not only believe that he is God. We must not only believe that he is Savior. We must also believe in everything that he taught by word and by deed.

We enter the kingdom of heaven by listening to his words and acting upon them. Salvation is more than a statement of belief. It's more than going to Mass and reciting the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  It's faith in action. We act the way Jesus acted and we do what Jesus did, because we love him so much that we want others to love him too.

We let our faith shine, for example, when we love our enemies, and when we forgive others as he forgives us and when we do more than what is asked of us, going the extra mile - not because he told us to, but because we genuinely care.

Obedience is merely the minimum. To be heralds of hope and flames of light that Christ brings to the world, we must embrace the way he delivers that hope and light. Going the extra mile is the way we go to the cross with him. And while the cross looks like the antithesis of Christmas, it is sacrifice that opens the door of hope in the hearts of others.

Faith is what motivates us to do more than the minimum. If we have faith in Christ, we love as he loves, and we cannot help but want to do more for others. There is the guarantee of heaven: If we love others in him and through him, of course we will have eternal life with him.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Light of Heaven's Hope

It’s hard for me to read or listen to reports on immigration and refugees, random shootings, hate crimes, health care reform, opioid addiction, wildfires, climate change, etc.  and apply today’s readings to the world today without a bit of doubt and cynicism. “The wolf be a guest of the lamb?”  He’s kidding, right? After all these millennia since Isiah was written, it would seem we still can’t be civil in our disagreements nor tolerate differences, whether it be on the world stage or in our families and communities.” These readings evoke hope for sure, but also doubt and cynicism…and a longing for the peace and justice and flourishing that the prophet Isaiah promises, and which resound in today’s Psalm—"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.”

I’ve stopped listening to the news programs.  I also have gotten a whole lot better at not reading the comment sections of internet news items.  It’s not healthy for me spiritually.  There are too few voices of hope, and too much hatred.  I may be less informed than I used to be, but I would rather spend time listening and watching (which needs close and careful attention) for signs of hope, of reconciliation, of humble human compassion and celebration of diversity.

This advent let’s pray in hope for the weaker of our brethren in the Body of Christ. We pray that we may be voices of hope. We pray that God make a home in us that we may notice and bless and nourish every movement towards peace, justice, compassion, reconciliation; every moment that leads us back to God.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Jesus did come, is coming now and will come again

The entire season of Advent is all focusing on how God, in Jesus’ Christ comes.  Part of it will be, especially as we get closer to Christmas, on that first entrance of Jesus into human history. 

But the first couple of weeks in Advent we’re reminded about the reality that Jesus is coming at THE end of the world.  And it’s easy for most of us to as soon as we start hearing it being described, we can zone out hearing all of that imagery.   

Because with our own “ends of the world” very much on our minds and hearts, many (or maybe most) of us are anxious or overwhelmed even before we walk into Mass… 

Each Mass is a manifestation of the God-Man who came to live among us and live within us.  If we but have the faith of the centurion in today’s Gospel reading, we, too, will be blessed by our God beyond measure.

I think that’s why Jesus makes a point of telling us in this Gospel to not let our hearts get drowsy and tired by it all.  It’s way too easy to give into the temptation to try and numb the pain, or distract ourselves from troubles by overworking, yielding to depression; turning towards Alcohol or sexual sins or other out of control behaviors – like spending countless hours online or Netflixing, and on and on…   which all contribute to this fog of busy-ness we all seem to be suffering from.  And if I’m already depressed by whatever it is I feel is the end of the world in my life…  and I’m filling my time with all this other unhelpful stuff – it’s understandable that I would feel doomy and gloomy… and kind of dismiss the Gospel reading. 

 Advent wants to wake us out of that drowsiness…

 Advent wants us to get more serious and break us out of those destructive things that distract and unsettle us. Most especially because Advent wants us to remember and focus on the reality, the third way that Jesus comes– Jesus comes to us here and now – most especially as we hear His word and receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist at Mass. 

Advent tells us to take a breath, and rediscover how God is constantly trying to break into our crazy, distracted, shifting worlds… Jesus wants to come into it all no matter what it is we’re experiencing, wherever we find ourselves right now.  Jesus wants to come to console, to strengthen us.  Jesus wants us to discover or rediscover how His presence in our lives helps us any and everything that comes our way.

Advent is a joyful time to recall that Jesus has come, will come and continues to come to those who welcome Him… 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

An anniversary of both sadness and great joy!

November 29th is a day I remember each year with both sadness and great joy.  The sad memory is that on this date in 2010, my brother Bob passed away.
My nephew Tim drew this when his father died.  
It sums up my feelings of sadness followed by joy when I think of Bob's passing

That sadness for me is overshadowed with joy though, because it’s also the day he entered into a new life in Christ as a good and faithful servant.  We in the Catholic Church celebrate the day that saints die as “Feast” days.  Happy Feast Day, Bro.  Please pray for us.  

Our baptism as soon as possible after our birth places an indelible mark on our souls and identifies us as followers of Christ

On this date 65 years ago, 2 weeks after I was born, I was baptized.  Of course, I was not aware what the Sacrament meant to me then, but now that I’m older and wiser (we can debate that another time, lol), I like to think it’s the most important decision my parents ever made on my behalf. Thanks, Mom and Dad. 

Baptism has six primary effects, which are all supernatural graces:

·         The removal of the guilt of both Original Sin (the sin imparted to all mankind by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and personal sin (the sins that we have committed ourselves). If only we could remain this way! (sigh!)

·         The remission of all punishment that we owe because of sin, both temporal (in this world and in Purgatory) and eternal (the punishment that we would suffer in hell).

·         The infusion of grace in the form of sanctifying grace (the life of God within us); the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (or courage), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) and the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (or love).

·         Becoming a part of Christ.

·         Becoming a part of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.

·         Enabling participation in the sacraments, the priesthood of all believers, and the growth in grace.

Through our baptism we receive the graces we need to be able to ask, “What does my neighbor (mother, father, spouse, son, daughter, friend, co-worker, etc) need from me today?” and “How can I accommodate that need?” Our “job” as baptized Christians is to become the face of Christ to others.

I thank God for giving me the Spirit of Christ in baptism and I ask God to help me be open to the Spirit so I might truly be Christ’s presence for others.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Trying to find my way to the sea of glass

On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory…and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. (Revelation 15:2-3)

Those standing on the sea of glass who had won the victory and remained faithful to "The mind of Christ” are the ones not dead but wear the crown of life.

I want to be one of those standing on the “sea of glass”.  Those are the saints in Heaven.  God bless her, Lily often tells me she thinks I’m going to be a saint.  I remind her whenever she says that, that I’m far from it right now.  But am I, really?

I sometimes feel "martyred", not to the point of death, but very worn-down spiritually.  Some days it seems like everything I hear, see and do just tries to block my belief in Christ and take me down the wrong path. Those are the days filled with frustrations and I just want to wrap the scriptures around my head and wear it like a crown.

Pope Francis said recently, “Martyrdom of blood is not the only way to witness to Jesus Christ. . . . There is everyday martyrdom: the martyrdom of honesty, the martyrdom of patience in raising children; the martyrdom of fidelity to love, when it is easier to take another, more hidden path” (Address, June 18, 2016).

Every time we make a choice for someone else over ourselves, we have won a victory. Every time we cooperate with God’s grace instead of giving in to temptation, we have won a victory. We may not see it, but God is shaping our character. He is making us a witness to his power. And he is giving us the victory.

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (Luke 21:19)

We just have to persevere: “Lord, help me to be humble, simple, and willing to follow you no matter how ordinary life may seem.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The battle is already won for those who persevere in faith

Coming into the advent season we get a lot of scripture reminding us that this world is temporary. 

In the first reading from Revelation this morning, the angels reap two kinds of harvests: the earth's harvest and the grape harvest.

In the earth's harvest, all God's people are gathered into heaven. This scripture connects back to Matthew 9:37, where Jesus asked for an increase of laborers to work in the harvesting fields of God's kingdom.

In the grape harvest, all evil is cut from the earth and destroyed. This verse connects back to Isaiah 63:3, where the Messiah's garments are stained by the blood of evil-doers.

Then, in the Gospel today, Jesus talks about all of signs that will occur before this “harvesting”—

"See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,' and 'The time has come.' Do not follow them!

When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end."

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky."

All these ‘signs’ sound familiar in our present day, don’t they?  But Jesus says clearly that despite the terrible things happening around us that we should not be terrified for they are not signs of an immediate end. So, rather than feeling fearful and anxious, understand that God protects us by giving us the strength and resolve to persevere through difficult times.  Jesus not only provides comfort and strength, but he reminds us through his teachings that our perseverance and faith will secure our lives and lead us to redemption.  As many of us know, times of great challenge and difficulty often bring opportunities for renewal and growth and that is exactly what the season of advent provides – a chance to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ. We rejoice in the birth of Jesus and prepare, with hope, for his second coming by reflecting on and then acting upon his message - a message of kindness, compassion, justice, mercy and love. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Sometimes our gifts are for others

A pickup truck changed lanes in front of me without a signal and I had to put my brakes on to avoid a collision.  Before I could get angry enough to honk my horn and show my disapproval to the driver with a certain hand gesture, I notice the bumper sticker on his tailgate.  It was 1Sam 2:5-9.  Instead of getting mad, I memorized the reading number and told myself to look it up as a preparatory prayer for Mass. 

It is part of a prayer that Hannah (Samuel’s mother) prayed before presenting Samuel to back to God to be taught by Eli, the prophet to fulfill her promise to God if He would give her a son.

“The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry no longer have to toil.

The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.

The LORD puts to death and gives life, casts down to Sheol and brings up again.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich, humbles, and also exalts.

He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles

and make a glorious throne their heritage.

For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and he has set the world upon them.

He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness; for not by strength does one prevail.”

I wondered why the inconsiderate (or possibly just unobservant) driver would have this specific Bible passage on the back of his pickup truck.  Then I realized that maybe it wasn’t for the driver, but for me.  After all, the driver can’t see the bumper sticker, but those who are following too close (either unintentionally, like me, or on purpose) can.

Because I like to think I’m one who actively listens for God’s voice in my everyday life, it did not go unnoticed that a prayer using an image of a “glorious throne” was literally placed in my path on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

But the image didn’t stop there.  As I reflect on the same passage in the light of today’s Gospel reading—when Jesus noticed the widow putting in “all that she had” into the collection plate (Luke 21:1-4)—I am reminded of a gentleman who used to attend the 5:30 PM daily mass at one of the churches in Bakersfield. 

The church has Perpetual Adoration in their chapel.  This means that at any time of the day or night (with a code to the security gate) parishioners can pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament to ask for intercession or simply converse with Jesus.  Whenever I would attend the daily mass at that chapel, there was a man sitting in the front pew right in front of the altar playing his harmonica in a low tone. 

Occasionally, I could figure out what he was playing, but not often.  Sometimes I thought he was composing his own song, since he would play the same notes over and over and over again.  He was an older man who walked with a stoop and had very arthritic fingers. 

At daily masses it is uncommon for a lot of music to be sung or even prayed.  But this man would always play his harmonica during the offertory rite and again right after communion.

One specific word in today’s gospel is the key to my story.  Jesus “noticed” the widow.  At first the old man’s harmonica playing was a distraction to me and my own ability to be “in the moment” with Christ at mass.  But the more I “noticed” him, it became clear his playing was his ‘giving all he had’ to God through his meager talent.  After a few weeks of “noticing” him, his playing became a portal through which I entered into a more meaningful prayer with God.

Since I’ve retired, I no longer go to that mass.  I wonder if he is still being used by God as an instrument (pun intended) to deeper prayer for others.  Maybe, if it’s possible, an even deeper prayer than Hannah’s.

Friday, November 23, 2018

You Must Prophesy

When the angel told Saint John "Here, take and eat this scroll. It will taste sweet but will sour in your stomach" in today's first reading, my first thought was my birthday celebration last Sunday at my daughter and son-in-law’s home.  After lunch, we went back to their house and they had ordered me my favorite dessert of all time, a lemon meringue pie.  They sliced it up and gave me a sizable portion to taste.  The meringue was perfect and sweet, but I found the lemon custard (made from real lemons, not that stuff you buy in the stores) was a bit on the sour side.  Over the next two days, somehow the lemon got less tart and sweeter and was absolutely delicious by Tuesday when I finished it off.  It didn’t make my stomach upset, as the reading from Revelation says, but the analogy was furthered along by today’s responsorial Psalm.

The Psalm says, "How sweet to my taste is your promise!" The Good News from God is always wonderful, but when we have to share the truth with those who will reject us, it churns in our stomachs, or leaves a sour taste in our mouth.  Jesus spoke the truth in the Gospel passage, and the chief priests, leaders and scribes plotted to destroy him. Who can stomach that kind of rejection and then do it again?

God told John, "You must prophesy." Through our baptisms, we all share in Christ's divine role as prophet. We must prophesy! But not as fortune tellers; that is Satan's twisted warp on it. And not by nagging someone with the truth; that's casting pearls before swine, which Jesus warned against. To be a prophet means to speak the truth to those who need to hear it, but only when God chooses the timing and gives us the words to speak.

We are held accountable for every word that we use or misuse. We are also held accountable for every word he asks us to utter that we do not speak because we're afraid that someone's reaction might upset our stomachs.

To be God's voice here on earth, we must first live the truth, learning it from scripture and Church teachings, letting it change our own lives, and humbly going to Confession for the times we've rejected the truth. Since we can never fully grasp the truth, we must continually study, learn, and live the truth.

Secondly, we must stay in prayer to discern God's will, and thirdly, we must rely on the Holy Spirit's inspiration rather than on our personal emotions and agendas.

And when the sweet taste of his Word turns sour in our stomach or leaves that bad taste in our mouth, we have the satisfaction of knowing that it has united us to St. John and to Jesus.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Invest your talents, don't hide them

“Invest this until I get back.” (Luke 19:13)

Everything we have, we have as a gift from a generous God. Everything that has come to us has come to us at little cost compared with the cost of our redemption. Nothing belongs to us because we cannot hold onto it forever. If many of us traced our ancestry back, we would find that we are the direct relatives of fabulously wealthy men and women. How many of us have anything to show for it?
Our talents are given us, lent to us for our time on Earth to be used for His glory. They are not ours because they will be translated when we are no longer here. But we are expected to use them and to produce more. We are expected to invest them and return a harvest of souls bound for salvation. One of the great tragedies of humankind would be not to use these wonderful gifts in the proper way.
Gifts that are used increase—they do so naturally, like exercising a muscle, as they increase, our capacity to use them increases. Soon we find ourselves in places we never expected—the Lord keeps giving us more and more, knowing that someday we'll stop relying on ourselves and start relying on Him.
So, as we go about our daily chores and our daily activities, we need to think about how we can use the gift of cooking, or cleaning, or writing, or listening, or whatever we may be blessed by and to consider carefully how we might best offer it back to God through loving our neighbor.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ready or not, here He comes!

If Jesus came up to you today and asked to come to your home for dinner, would you say yes? Would you be willing to let Him in and dine with you on such short notice, knowing that your home was not clean and the refrigerator nearly empty since your plan was to buy groceries the next day?  Would you welcome Him anyway, regardless of how things were with you personally; long overdue for a haircut, or unshaven for a day or two?  Or would you offer Him a rain check for a better day when you had time to clean, prepare a king's feast and have yourself all spruced up for the great visit from your Lord?

In the gospel, Jesus calls to Zacchaeus and invites Himself to dinner and it is possible that Zacchaeus was not ready for this himself.  Jesus did not go to Zacchaeus for a feast or to see his palatial home all cleaned and ready for the visit.  Jesus went to Zacchaeus because he was a tax collector, a man in need of salvation!

Jesus comes to us the same way.  He is not expecting us to be in our finest clothes with a gourmet meal all prepared and ready. He comes expecting us as we are, sinners in need of an all loving and all saving God.  To be ready for Him is not to have our house all in perfect order, but rather to be willing to accept Him when He calls and ready to do His bidding and receive the free gift He brings.

Jesus will help us get our house in order.  But we have to accept His invitation.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Discernment is a Gift from God That Needs to be Opened

In today’s passage from Revelation, we are told, ‘blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written… ‘I know your works, your labor, and your endurance…and (you) have not grown weary.’ But further on, ‘Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first.’

I don’t know what made me count it, but the word wicked comes up four times in the first reading today.  Other words are imposters, fallen, insolent and sinners.  There was no shortage of evil when Revelation was written and there is plenty of evil now.  At times it seems we live in a dark world.  Every moral standard is tested.  Absolute truth is mocked.  Good is ridiculed and evil is justified.  God is clear that we are to discern good from evil.  We are to embrace good and repent when we have done evil.

Revelation is telling me that God has made a covenant with me and that I have received and opened the gift of faith, to guide my “life- decision- making.” Trusting in what I believe the Holy Spirit is telling my soul takes some endurance, and after a while I do find myself getting tired and complacent. Revelation reminds me to stay vigilant, grateful, and aware.  Also to remember to acknowledge my faith and decision-making as a gift I have received from God. The last passage also reminds me to share my insight with others as if it were the first time I had ever discovered God’s love.

My newest granddaughter, Paloma Sarah, has given me reason to contemplate further on what today’s reading is about.  She is so beautiful.  And I am head over heels in love with her.  I mean, I really, REALLY love her.  Why is that?  How does that happen?  She is two weeks old tomorrow.  I barely know her.  What does she have to offer me?  I mean all she does is eat, poop and cry.  Good grief, anybody can do that.  And yet, I hold her in my arms and look at her and my heart just melts.  I would do anything for her.  I know I would lay my life down for her in a heartbeat.  The same applies to my other two grandchildren and my own children, for that matter.

I wonder, is that how God looks at us?  Like a baby in His arms?  It’s not like God needs us or we have anything special to offer to God.  And yet, God loves us so much He laid down his life for us.  We are God’s children.  Kind of an amazing thought.  It isn’t what we can do for God or what we have to offer God.  It’s about who we are. 

My prayer today is for discernment.  To be able to discern good from evil and to know God’s will.  To know that we are God’s creation, His children and to realize how much He loves us.  Life is always changing, but God’s love for us remains the same.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Birthdays, End Times, and Hope

The month of November is a roller-coaster for me.  I love the birthday celebrations (my own comes to mind first, lol—and now Paloma’s birthday, as well!) and most of the Feast Days.  But I also get pretty somber when I reflect on the death of so many of my loved ones on All Souls Day.  The scripture readings at mass for the last 4 weeks or so also remind us of the “end times”.  Today's Gospel is also kind of a "downer", unless you read it in conjunction with the other readings the Church has chosen; then, one finds a lot of hope. 

In the Book of Daniel we hear of the frightening times at the end of the world, but are given the reassurance that those who have tried to lead others to justice will reap their reward. The psalm holds the key on how we are to do this in the phrase that refers to God showing us the path to life. It also mentions that our reward is not some fancy gold-lined street as we so often hear heaven described, but rather that God Himself is our inheritance. We've already begun to reap that reward here on earth, in that as baptized Christians we're the adopted sons and daughters of God.

The second reading reassures us that Christ has made the sacrifice for our sins once and for all. That has been done. We no longer have to worry about that, although obviously we need to strive toward holiness and repent for our sins. The Gospel is like the final climax, depicting Christ coming at the end of the world and the angels being sent out to collect the just for the kingdom of God.

So, what does all this mean for us on a day to day basis? It's quite simple, as following Christ usually is. We are to ask Christ to show us the way every day. We prayerfully discern what He is asking of us and we do it. That's it! And to make things even more reassuring, we're often told in scripture, and—in particular—today’s psalm, that Christ is with us through all of this and therefore we shouldn't be disturbed.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A woman of persistence

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Luke 18:8b

This is a good and interesting question that Jesus poses.  He poses it to each one of us and asks us to answer it in a personal way.  The answer is contingent upon whether or not we each have faith in our hearts.

What is faith?  Hebrews 11:1 describes it this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  In other words, it can be said that faith is a response from each one of us to God speaking in our hearts.  In order to have faith we must first listen to God speak.  We must let Him reveal Himself to us within the depths of our conscience.  And when He does this, we manifest faith by responding to all that He reveals.  We enter into a belief in His Word spoken to us and it is this act of believing that changes us and forms faith within us.

And so at this time the question of Jesus seems very pertinent.  He is asking if there will be faith on this earth when he comes at the end of the world.  We can’t see the future and so are unable to answer the Lord’s question.  What we can do is to make sure that faith is present among us in our time and that we pass it on to our children and grandchildren.  If succeeding generations can continue to do that then the answer to the question of the Lord will be yes. 

There are many challenges to faith in today’s world.  Many Catholics pay lip service to being Catholic but do not really practice their faith.  Other Catholics find the practice of their faith difficult because of the challenges and struggles in their lives

One of the means of renewing our faith is through the strengthening of our contact with the Lord.  We do this through prayer.  And prayer is the subject of today’s gospel.  In his parable Jesus calls upon us to be like the widow who persisted in her demand for a just decision.  He wants us to be persistent in prayer and never grow weary of asking Jesus for what we need, just as the widow never tired of asking the dishonest judge for a decision.    Perseverance in prayer is not always easy, but it will be rewarded.  Jesus is listening to us.  We know that through faith.

I have a couple of images that come to mind when I think about my mom’s persistence in praying for others.  One is today’s gospel.  The other is like when taking a flight somewhere, the flight attendants will explain the safety features of the aircraft.  In case of the loss of cabin pressure, the oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling above you.  You are supposed to put your own mask on first, then help the others around you, especially the small children and elderly.  I know Mom felt like her rosaries and novenas were not necessarily for HER sake, but for those of us who haven’t put our own masks on yet and expressed our love of God and neighbor through the prayers our Blessed Mother has asked us to pray.  After her retirement, you could say her full-time job was her prayer life!  And Mom was very, very busy! I crunched some numbers a few years back and I figured she had said over 1 million prayers on behalf of her family, just from the time of her retirement!  

Faith is not just believing.  It’s believing in what God speaks to us.  It’s the belief in His very Word and in His very Person.  When we do enter into the gift of faith, we grow in a certainty about God and all He says to a radical degree.  That certainty is what God is looking for in our life and will be the answer to His question above.

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”