Saturday, July 30, 2011

Come to Me

Fr. W. Norris Clarke, S.J.
Readings for Sunday, July 31:
Isaiah 55:1-3
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

My brother’s son is getting to the age now where he is really curious about everything going on around him and why things are the way they are, so he constantly asks questions. And, of course, every answer you provide evokes another question. What, where, when, why and how seem to be the most popular five words. And while it can be tiring to answer question after question, there is a beauty about that stage of life – it helps us to see in a very concrete way the reality that we ourselves are always seeking something.

The twentieth century Jesuit philosopher Norris Clarke often spoke of the dynamism of the human intellect – that people have an infinite capacity to learn new things (and unfortunately forget some older things). But the reality is that we can always formulate new questions and try to understand things more deeply. Our mind is perpetually seeking and he says that this is actually a sign of our thirst for God. We have an infinite longing within us and we try to fill that longing by asking questions and seeking after the things of this world, but the reality is that only something that is infinite can fill an infinite space. And that infinite thing is God. Saint Augustine summarizes this best with that familiar phrase, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

As we listened to the words from Isaiah, we hear the Lord asking the Israelites “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” And yet we realize that the question is not only for them but also for ourselves – why do we seek after that which does not satisfy? A lot of us, I’m sure, struggle with this problem of seeking after those things that don’t fulfill us rather than in the Lord who does. I know that I find it really tempting when I’m having a bad day or am upset about something to just go and plug in my headphones and listen to music to escape from things a bit. But does that ultimately satisfy me? No; that just delays the issue. What does satisfy me is going to the Lord in prayer and asking Him to be with me and help me to know His presence in that moment. There I find fulfillment.

When the disciples in the gospel ask Jesus to send the people elsewhere to find food, He takes it as an opportunity to show everyone, especially the apostles, that they need not turn to the world to be fulfilled. As the Lord cried out in Isaiah, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life,” so Jesus tells them that they need only come to Him and listen to His words. Doing so, they find themselves in the midst of a mysterious event, where Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and distributes it and thousands are fed. And not just fed, the scriptures tell us “they were satisfied.” So great is the Lord’s love for his people that He gives more than they needed or asked for in response to them simply placing their trust in Him.

Today in this Eucharistic celebration, we find the Lord coming once again mysterious to take, bless, break, and distribute the ‘true bread from heaven’, His own flesh in the Eucharist, and we realize that the Lord is once again inviting us to come to Him and have life. He desires nothing but what is best for us - that we be fulfilled by Him. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Papal Prayer Intentions

Did you know that each month the Holy Father asks the world to pray for two specific intentions, one general and one missionary? Here are his intentions for the month of August:

General Intention: “That World Youth Day in Madrid may encourage young people throughout the world to have their lives rooted and built up in Christ”.

Mission Intention: “That Western Christians may be open to the action of the Holy Spirit and rediscover the freshness and enthusiasm of their faith”. 

Let us join the Holy Father in praying for these intentions. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Youth and Stupidity

A nice reference can be found HERE that discusses a bit more the Heavenly reality of the Mass, which I discussed in my homily for last weekend.

Also, as I was praying midday prayer today I came across that familiar psalm prayer that I love so much and pray that the Lord hears and answers, especially for myself: "To you, Lord, we lift up our souls; rescue us, do not let us be put to shame for calling out to you. Do not remember the sins of our youth and stupidity, but remember us with your love." Well said, Mother Church. Well said.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Liturgy and Treasure

1 Kings 3:5,7-12
Psalm 119:57,72,76-77, 127-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-46

This past Thursday I had the blessing of going down to Vacherie to the youth group’s mission work sites to hear confessions and visit for the afternoon and while I was there I was struck by the condition of one of the houses that was in pretty rough shape. Now, I’ve been on mission trips to Central America and seen some really bad housing there, but it really hit me that there were people in such bad shape so nearby. As I was reflecting on this reality, I began to contemplate the amount of things that going on around me that I never even know about. The people with untold problems and afflictions standing next to me in the checkout line at the grocery store or gas pump, the many opportunities that I miss to share the love of Christ with other, the countless graces that the Lord pours upon me that go unnoticed. Like the treasure and pearl that were passed over by so many before being found by certain ones, we too often miss the great gifts and opportunities that surround us constantly.

As you’ve likely gathered by now, one of the things that really excites me is the celebration of the liturgy because it is arguably the greatest treasure in the world. But the reality is that although it is the greatest treasure, it is also a treasure that remains for many still undiscovered. From a numbers standpoint, we know the largest religious group in America is Catholics. The second largest group is people who used to be Catholic. And of the Catholics still remaining, only 30% attend Mass weekly. From those numbers, it sure doesn’t sound like people have found the treasure worth selling everything to attain. Rather all too often we hear things like “I just don’t get anything out of Mass” or “It’s boring” or “I like to go to such and such place because they have [insert specific aspect here].” I myself have said some of those things in days past, but the reality is that if we don’t get anything out of Mass or if we are bored, then the problem is not with the Mass itself but with us! The treasure is there, we just have to make the effort to dig and unbury it, to seek it out like that pearl of great price in the gospel. Just as the gospel tells that the people went and sold what they had to attain the valuable things, so we too must give of ourselves in seeking after the treasure that the Lord has in store for us in the celebration of the Mass.

When people who have not discovered the treasure of the Mass begin to talk about it, they often knowingly or unknowingly lump it together with anything else they do in the week – it’s right alongside, or sometimes below, shopping trips to the mall, kids’ ballgames, visiting a friend, or spending quiet time with the family; just one more thing in the mix. The reality, though, is that the Mass is nothing at all like any of those things. In those events we all remain here doing the regular tasks of our daily lives. When we come to Mass, we literally get taken up into Heaven and to the foot of Calvary’s hill!

The prominent French liturgist Dom Prosper Guéranger reminds us, “The Sacrifice of the Mass is the Sacrifice of the Cross itself; and in it we must see Our Lord nailed to the Cross; and offering up His Blood for our sins, to His Eternal Father.” (The Holy Mass, 2) We do not simply come to worship and pray to God, we actually are taken, in a very mysterious way to the Crucifixion itself and when the priest elevates the Sacred Host and Saving Chalice, we are truly gazing upon the Lord giving Himself to the Father in that great act of love. So far is this beyond our understanding, but the reality is true. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Paschal mystery of Christ  - His Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension -  “cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death and all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all.” (CCC,1085) Again, because Jesus Christ is divine, these historical events are also lifted up into Heaven and eternity, and when we come here to celebrate the Mass, we are taken up into that mystery. We stand alongside Mary at the Cross (CCC 1370) and we briefly join with all the angels and saints in worshiping the Lamb of God in the Heavenly Banquet. At the seminary it was once explained to me that the essence of the Mass – the worship of God – is constantly occurring in Heaven and that when we attend Mass we are briefly lifted up into and then brought back down. What a wonderful thing to contemplate!

In addition to this aspect of sacrifice, which is the primary mode of understanding what takes place in the Mass, there are two other aspects that are present, though in a lesser way. First, is that of the meal, where we are also brought mysteriously into the Upper Room at the Last Supper. By virtue of his ordination, the priest actually becomes a vessel of Christ and acts ‘in the person of Christ the Head’ in the liturgy and so when the priest is speaking those words “This is my body” and “This is the cup of my blood”, we recognize it truly as Jesus at the Last Supper speaking those words Himself. And so we also take part in that great Passover Meal and the Banquet of Heaven.

Those two are the more commonly known aspects of the Mass, but how many of you have heard about the spousal or nuptial aspect of the Mass? The truth is that in the Mass we also see a marital image of Christ the Bridegroom showing the greatest sign of love for His Bride, the Church, in offering Himself up on the Cross. Just as a man and woman give themselves to one another out of love, so too does Our Lord give Himself to us in the words of consecration and in receiving Him in the Eucharist. This image is often missed, but is actually encouraged by the use of a chalice veil, as I use here on Sundays. The veil that covers the chalice is likened to the veil that the bride wears at her wedding and in the Jewish context the veil was lifted when the man and wife were to come together in that intimate embrace of love. And so today when we begin the preparation of the altar, the veil is removed as a sign of the reality that the Lord is about to offer Himself in love to us and we are to receive Him and respond in love also.

What a wonderfully valuable treasure we have here in the Mass, where we are at once transported into Heaven, the Upper Room and the Foot of the Cross and are able to receive the flesh and blood of the Lord, that great sign of His love for each of us and all of us. The treasure is right here in front of us and the tools to dig it up are not hard to find. The question is are willing to give of our time and ourselves to zealously seek after the many gifts that lie hidden?

Face-Melting Quote of the Day

About the Eucharist being the true Body and Blood of Christ, St. Cyril of Alexandria says this: "Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie."

Thank you, St. Cyril and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1381)!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Name

Readings for Friday, July 22/ St. Mary Magdalene:
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19:8-11
John 20:1-2,11-18

Today we celebrate the life of St. Mary Madgalene, that great saint who experienced a powerful conversion and spent the rest of her life seeking after Our Lord. What a wonderful witness we have of faithfulness and longing for God in the gospel passage today. Mary is there early in the morning to pray at the tomb and to be with the body of Christ. And there she finds His body is not there and tells the others. She then remains at the tomb and is searching and weeping. The love that burns in her heart is so strong that she does not give up seeking when the others had already gone away or never even come at all. She remains. And for this, the Lord rewards her seeking as He calls out to her. Unclear at first of who it is, she pleads with Our Lord to tell her where the body has gone. And then that beautiful one-word sentence that pierces to the heart: "Mary." With the sound of her name, she realizes Who it is that calls her and she rejoices at His presence there with her. Like the sheep who know the voice of the shepherd, Mary knows the One who calls her then and she has the joy of proclaiming to others that truth of His Resurrection from the dead. May the Lord grant us the same grace, to hear Him call our names and allow us cry out with joy and bring news of His New Life to those around us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reflecting God

Readings for Monday, July 18/ St. Camillus:
Exodus 14:5-18
Exodus 15:1-6 (in place of resp. psalm)
Matthew 12:38-42

I love the lives of the saints because we get to see the virtues lived out in a really radical way. You know, each saint tends to have at least one virtue that really shines in their lives. As we celebrate St. Camillus today, I want to say that his shining virtue is humility. His feast is regularly the 14th of this month, but since that is the memorial of Blessed Kateri, a native of our land, he is 'perpetually transferred' (as the Ordo so nicely puts it) to the 18th. The real virtue that shines in him though is that of charity. His life was dedicated to serving others, especially those who were ill and in need of care. So alive was the charity within him that he would truly see those he served as 'other Christs,' going so far as to beg their forgiveness for his own faults. It was also said that he was so intent on serving others and letting the love of God be known that if there were no more people above the ground to meet, that we ought to go underground to see if there are souls there. What charity coursed through his veins and dwelt in his soul! And yet we also realize that it was truly the Lord who was alive in Him, the God who is Love Itself. 

So often when we turn to the Bible we think about the Gospels and those moving letter of St. Paul, but the reality is that the Old Testament is full of wonderful one-line prayers that we would do well to pray with also. For instance, in Exodus today we hear Moses tell the Israelites, who are fleeing in fear of the Egyptians, "The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still." What a beautiful sign of God's love for us - that we truly need do nothing but keep still in Him and all will work according to His plan. My we have that grace today and everyday, and so shine ourselves with that same love that He shows to us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Enduring Mercy

Readings for Saturday, July 16/ Our Lady of Mt. Carmel:
Exodus 12:37-42
Psalm 136:1, 10-15, 23-24
Matthew 12:14-21

For His mercy endures forever.

When I was in my first year of seminary, I have to admit that I struggled a bit with this psalm when we would recite it in our communal prayer. Not because I doubted God's mercy, just because it was so repetitive that I got bored with it. God did such and such in a lofty voice and then... droning ... for his mercy endures forever. And it seemed almost to me like it was interrupting the psalm. But as I look at it now I understand really that the people were trying to drive home the point of just how much God's mercy is truly with us and that it endures forever. Everything that is spoken in the psalm, from the creation of the world to the protection of the Israelites from pharaoh, was done 'for His mercy endures forever.' It is out of God's mercy and love for us that all things really are able to work and continue. And as we pray with this psalm again today the Lord invites us to see that mercy.

In the person of Mary, whom we honor today under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, God's mercy was shown to us because we have a mother and a model of virtue to follow after, as well as a saint of incredible intercessory power. God has made Our Lady not only the mother of Christ but also the mother of us all; for His mercy endures forever.

He allows us to come here today before His altar to receive this sacred gift of the Eucharist; for His love endures forever. He sees us in our sinfulness and draws us closer to Himself; for His love endures forever. In fact, God's love and mercy is so strong and enduring that - as St. Jean Vianney once said -  in the sacrament of reconciliation God forces Himself to forget our future sins so that He can forgive us. He knows we will sin again and yet so great is His mercy that it forgets that later time so as to pour His mercy now.

And as we listen to the words of Matthew citing the prophet Isaiah, we also hear of that enduring mercy: "a bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not quench." So great is God's mercy that seeing even the smallest bit of good in us, He allows us to continue to live and works to draw us deeper into Himself. How blessed are we to know the mercy of God in our own lives; and may God grant that we might come to know it ever more deeply.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Bread

Readings for Friday, July 15/ Memorial of St. Bonaventure:
Exodus 11:10-12:14
Psalm 116:12,13,15-18
Matthew 12:1-8

"This day shall be a memorial for you, which all your generations shall a perpetual institution."

Some people have this idea that the Catholic Church just kinda happened, it just popped up one day and we started worshiping God. The reality, however, is that the Catholic (Christian) faith is really the successor and fulfillment of the Jewish faith. The Jews awaited the Messiah and when the Lord Jesus came, the Jews needed no longer look because He had finally come. And so when we read this passage from Exodus today we find that we too are called to celebrate that perpetual institution and celebration, the Passover. The term 'pasch' which was applied to the Jewish Passover is still actually used by the Church today to describe our Easter celebration - hence, Paschal Season.

I like how the readings match up today also because the Exodus reading is about the offering of the Passover and in Matthew's gospel we read a selection where Jesus begins to speak of His apostles as priests. Look at the two instances that Jesus cites. First He recalls how David and his men at the 'bread of offering'. The reality is that this bread - twelve loaves to symbolize the twelve tribes - was made by the priests and only for the priests and it was kept before the Lord perpetually, so to eat of the bread to was to participate in a way in the priest's rights. And secondly, Jesus cites how the priests labor on the Sabbath and are innocent and connects that with His apostles, again correlating them with the priesthood. And so Our Lord begins to show the reality that these men would be His priests and would one day offer that true sacrifice to God - bread and wine. How blessed are we today to have through those men the gift of the Eucharist that comes to us on this altar, this special occasion where we continue that perpetual celebration spoken of over 3000 years ago.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Well, for about a year now I have survived with pretty minimal change of the blog page and am now discovering just how much I can actually do with it - especially linking to others and having extra pages (as noted on the bar above). I am currently learning more and more about these various possibilities and so there will be some noted changes coming in the next few weeks as I am able to make use of what is available to me here. Please pardon the construction and check back often for updates both in entries and layout. Also, input on how things look or what to add is greatly appreciated - the point of the blog is to help others, so let me know if there is something that might better facilitate that! God's blessings be upon you!


Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10-14
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

If you’ve ever been to Sacred Heart Parish here in Baton Rouge you will likely have noticed the beautiful paintings done by Dom Gregory Dewit, a Benedictine monk. One of the things that I love about his works, and most pieces of art, is the detail, the smallest of things that could easily be passed over. That same Dom Gregory also painted the inside of the Abbey Church at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington and there you could see his wit and character come through in the details. On the painting of the Last Supper there are salt and pepper shakers, which certainly would not have been there, just as a little touch of humor in the piece. In the image of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, two altar servers in cassock and surplice and nice black shoes, a touch of the contemporary. The details made you think. But the one that I appreciated the most is in the refectory, where the monks would eat their meals. On the ceiling of their dining hall is a painting of many majestic and beautiful animals going back to the story of creation. The story goes that there was one monk who bothered Dom Gregory while he was working and he would critique his work. And so to get back at the monk he, in friendly fashion, over the seat where the bothersome monk sat every meal throughout his life there at the monastery the artist painted a picture of a donkey as a way of funny way of letting the brother and others know that he thought the guy was an… well, you get the picture. But the beauty is in the details. It’s the details that really bring the story to life.

As we listen to the opening of our gospel today we ought to be struck by the details – Jesus went out in a boat along the shore and sat down. If we’re really reflecting on things, this ought to raise a red flag in our minds. Why are these details important? Of all the things that Matthew could have written about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, why does he note this? Well, to sit down meant that one was the teacher. In the days of Jesus, it meant that He was an authority that ought to be listened to and His word heeded. But why the boat? Well, think back in scripture. Is there any other boat that we can think of that is important? What about Noah’s ark? The ark was a sign of God’s love for His people and the means by which Noah and his family were saved from death. As we return to Jesus, we realize that the words that Jesus is speaking to us today are about that same thing – the means to being saved from death! But not just any death – eternal death; He’s telling us the way to attain salvation. And so we, like the people of His day, should all gather around and listen closely to His words.

As we hear Him speak we realize that He is telling us that the ‘seed’ is really the grace of God that He freely and abundantly showers down upon all of us and that we are the different types of soil that the seed falls upon. The more we avail ourselves of the grace, the more growth and fruit will be born from us. It’s rather simple actually, but here we also have the great gift of having the Lord actually explain in more depth the spiritual reality that corresponds to the different types of soil; we don’t have to rely on some interpretation but hear it straight from the lips of Our Lord.

First, we have the seed that falls on the path. This seed is lost because they hear the word of God but don’t understand it. Most of the world around us knows the name of Jesus Christ and but they don’t really understand. If you look at numbers, most Catholics don’t really understand. Half of the Catholics in America don’t believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus; they don’t understand. I would be willing to bet that most of us - myself included sometimes – don’t know as much about our faith as we should because we don’t make the time to read and understand it, and so the seed of faith so generously given is stolen from us by some false logic.

Next, we have the seed that falls on the rocky ground. This seed is lost because it doesn’t really take root. It stays at the surface and have anything to cling to. In our lives this is the soil where we lack discipline and perseverance. Often we can ‘experience God’ in some special charismatic time, a time of great trauma, or a time of great peace and we can really enjoy that experience of God. But when things begin to stabilize and normal life returns, does that relationship with God really have any roots to hold us together or do we simply give up all those good things that the Lord began to work in us? This happens frequently with retreat and conversions – there is a great burning fire at first, but then we struggle to keep it going. We must persevere in following the path set before us and not so quickly lose strength and return to our former ways.

Finally, we have the seed that falls on thorny ground and is choked out by the thorns around it. This is the reality that when God’s grace comes upon us, sometimes we have so much else going on within us and around us that we don’t even let it survive. We let the cares of the world – that things to do, place to go, people to see - become our primary focus and we lose sight of God and all that He is doing in our lives. It is not our intent, but the weeds of our world simply take over and the grace of God comes to nothing.

My brothers and sisters, each of us has these types of soil within the ‘field of our soul’ and the challenge is to make that soil the fertile soil that really allows the grace of God to take root and bear fruit in our lives. We must start first at the surface though – ripping up the spiritual thorns that choke out God’s grace by constantly trying to bring our focus upon God and then through Him, to the other things we must do. But we must keep Christ first; we must let Him take over our entire lives.

You’ll notice that I have placed a medium sized gold crucifix on the altar today and will continue to do so as a way of helping us to remember that it is truly Christ that is the center of what we celebrate here. As we gaze upon this meager crucifix, we recall the Lord who suffered and died for us, we remember that the Eucharist we celebrate is a true re-presentation of that sacrifice of Calvary and a gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He is the reason we are here today glorifying God. And I would suggest that this altar cross can also be a model of how to constantly keep God before our eyes throughout our day. Rather than a large cross, why not remind ourselves with religious imagery that the Lord is present throughout our day? Why not put a prayer card or crucifix in the bathroom to pray with in the morning as we start our day. Or maybe it could be a rosary in your car to help you recall God’s presence in that moment. Or a statue on your desk at work. All of these little things help us to recall God’s presence and help us to stay focused on Him. And if we stay focused on God, then we can begin the work of cleaning up the paths and digging up the rocks in the soil so we can really understand our faith and be deeply rooted in it.

The work will be long and tiring as we work to fix the soil of our soul, but remember that the payoff is incredible. For as St. Paul says, “I consider the sufferings of this present time as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Here I am!

Readings for Friday, July 8:
Genesis 46:1-7,28-30
Psalm 37:3-4,18-19,27-28,39-40
Matthew 10:16-23

"I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves."

We often hear about the proverbial 'wolf among the sheep' and how dangerous it can be for all the sheep because a single wolf can certainly do much damage if not quickly struck down. And yet today we hear the Lord tell His Apostles that they are being sent as sheep among wolves. In essence the Lord is telling them that they WILL be torn to pieces - they will be persecuted, beaten, and endure much suffering on His account. Though all of us are likely not to be so intensely persecuted as the Apostles were, we too must also face the reality that when we go and preach the Gospel in the world today we are in a sense being sent as sheep among wolves. The world does not always like what we have to say and will likely work to tear us down. But in the face of that, we must ultimately pray for the grace to always stand strong and be willing to pick up our cross and follow the Lord. Today, may we receive the strength that Jacob had, who upon hearing the voice of the Lord respond simply and boldly, "Here I am!"

More Prayers!

Last weekend in my homily I spoke about a large book of prayers and have since received several phone calls and emails asking for more information on it. The book is called the "Raccolta" and can be purchased from the publishers HERE. The book is from the 1950's and was the official book of indulgences - so for each prayer there is detailed the indulgence that was formerly attached to that prayer. With the revision of indulgences around the time of the Second Vatican Council, most of the indulgences noted are no longer in effect. However, the prayers are still beautiful and can certainly help to nourish our spiritual life. Tangentially, if you would like more information on the current 'Manual for Indulgences' which details how to attain indulgences and what prayers gain you indulgences, you can look HERE.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mortification and Prayer!

Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2,8-11,13-14
Romans 8:9,11-13
Matthew 11:25-30

On March 9 of this year we began the season of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. Since then we have celebrated six weeks of Lent, the Triduum, seven weeks of Easter and seventeen solemn feast days in the Church – fifteen of them since Easter, and five in the last two weeks! From a liturgical standpoint – I’m tired! Those seasons and celebrations are a great gift to us and a blessed time to meditate on the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord; but they’re also very tiring if you really give yourself over to them and try to enter into the celebrations.

While it is certainly fitting for us to have these great celebrations, I think it’s also good for us to realize that Jesus’ life wasn’t just one exciting thing after another. For 30 years he quietly, humbly worked as a carpenter. He prepared diligently for many years and after that preparation He was finally able to take up the mission that had been entrusted to Him by the Father. As we today celebrate this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first ‘regular Sunday’ in over three months, we have for ourselves the beginning a beautiful calm period in the liturgical year which stands as an invitation for us to take up that work of preparing ourselves more diligently for the mission given to us by doing the work deepening our relationship with the Lord.

I’ve been reflecting on how God is really present in our daily lives and I have realized how easy it is for us all, myself included, to fall into a sort of ‘practical atheism’ in our daily lives. There is so much going on around us and so many pleasurable things fighting for us to follow after them that it is easy to go throughout our day without realizing just how much God is with us throughout it. What a blessing for us to have this Ordinary Time of the Church year to simply cultivate in ourselves that reality that God is always with us and to grow in holiness.

That is exactly what Saint Paul is talking about today when he is writing to the Romans – he reminds them that we live in the Spirit and that we must put to death the desires of the flesh. You don’t need me or Saint Paul to tell you how bad things can get when we live by our fleshly desires, constantly seeking after pleasure; just look at the tabloids and see who is the latest celebrity to wind up in drug rehab or an alcoholics program or jail. That is not life – that is spiritual death! We are called to life! And so we are called to put to death the deeds of the flesh as a means to having that life. But how? Where do we begin? I would suggest following the simple axiom most of us have already heard – work like it all depends on you and pray like it all depends on God.
First we must recognize that we must take some action – Saint Paul tells us that we must put to death the desires of the flesh. WE! US! ME! There is something here for us to do and so we must work at it. As they say – there are no plains in the spiritual life but only hills, so you with go forward or fall backward. We need to constantly trudge forward. I have a good priest friend who has often said “Jesus didn’t say ‘pick up your comfy pillow and follow me’ but rather ‘pick up your cross and follow me’” and that is something that we ought to realize whenever we truly seek to follow after Christ. While pleasure isn’t bad and we all ought to enjoy ourselves, we are also called to pick up our crosses and follow after Him. This is exactly what we do when we follow the advice of Saint Paul.

And what is this work really? What does it look like? Well, it often comes in the form of us sacrificing something that brings us pleasure in order to offer that up to God. You all probably know that some years ago Catholics weren’t able to eat meat on Fridays; they were obliged to abstain. Then there came a point where it was said that Catholics didn’t have to abstain from meat anymore. But that was only half of what was said – the other half is that if we choose not to abstain from meat, we must take up some other penitential practice. The obligation to penance remains. So maybe we can take up abstaining from meat of Fridays once again. Or if that isn’t much of a penance for you, I might suggest abstaining from TV and Internet for the day. And with that time you could spend quality time with family, pray, or do some other thing that opens you up to God speaking to you.

That’s just for Fridays though – what about other days of the week? Maybe you could pick up fasting from a meal here or there. Or you could pick up smaller practices throughout the day here and there. I was thinking about how I could do that myself and I came to a couple of concrete examples. Now, I don’t know about y’all but I like good food and air conditioning. So what if next time we went to the grocery store or gas station rather than getting in and immediately cranking up the AC, turn it off and roll down the windows to enjoy the heat and offer that little bit of discomfort to God as a sign that we love Him and are willing to make some sacrifices for Him? Or next time we’re cooking or eating a meal, leave out some of that Tony’s or seasoning and leave it a little bland just as a small way of dying to that desire for pleasure in eating? Again, a small sign to God that we love Him and desire to follow after Him. And the beautiful thing is that those small sacrifices can be a source of grace for us and enable us to be willing to step up when the difficult sacrifices come down the road.

In the midst of all of these small practices that we can do throughout the day, though, we must remember the second part of that little axiom – we must pray like it all depends on God. We must be a people of prayer. There was a priest in the Early Church named Pelagius who said that we could work our way to Heaven and didn’t have to have God’s grace. My response to him is ‘what a fool!’ Everything is grace. It is by God’s grace that we are able to be here today, it is God’s grace that sustains us in existence, it is God’s grace that accomplishes all good works in us. We must be a people of prayer. After all, Saint Paul reminds us, it is by the Spirit that the desires of the flesh are put to death. By the Spirit. And so we must be rooted constantly in prayer. Certainly by coming here to Mass and the sacraments, visiting the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and praying other major prayers like the rosary, chaplets, novenas and such. But also we must find the Lord in the midst of the everyday aspects of life and we must invite Him into those times. I bought a book last year that was 600 pages of prayers and many of them were little one-liners. “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy.” “Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.” “Good Saint Joseph, pray for us.” And many many others. How great it is for us to be able to make those small prayers to God throughout the day and to invite Him into whatever is going on around us. Certainly that is His desire, for it is Christ Himself who tells us today “Come to me and I will give you rest.” What great rest we will have when we turn to Our Lord and cry out to Him.

And as we continue through the next few months of Ordinary Time, may the Lord grant us the grace to offer up those little crosses to Him and to make many acts of love both in word and in deed so that we might find that rest that we truly long for, both in this life and in the next.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Grace is a'flowin!

Today Mother Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. We stand in awe of the love that God has for us, especially God the Son, who took on our own human flesh and endured countless humiliations, temptations, trials and sufferings all so that He might be able to climb up on the Cross and offer Himself for us, that His Sacred Heart might be pierced and Blood and Water would wash over us and from His pierced side the Church would be born and we might find in her the means to our salvation. What a God we have! 

Also, today there is a plenary indulgence available for all who publicly recite (if able to do so publicly) the Act of Reparation found HERE, with the usual conditions - detachment from all sin, reception of Holy Communion, prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father (an Our Father and Hail Mary suffice) and sacramental confession within the week. Don't miss this opportunity for grace!!!