Sunday, March 24, 2013

Seeking Unity

Readings for March 24/ Passion (Palm) Sunday:
Luke 19:28-40
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

Each weekend throughout the year, outside of Lent and Advent, we profess our faith using the Nicene Creed, that ancient creed that powerfully and poetically speaks the core beliefs of the Catholic faith. At the end of that Creed we profess the four marks of the True Church – she is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. The marks are signs of the Church, but as members of that Church and all parts of the Body of Christ, we who are gathered here today must be instruments of unity in our world, but that unity must first come to rest in our hearts.

The Passion narrative that we hear today shows us exactly what can happen we when we fail to allow the seeds of unity to grow in our hearts and in their place sow the seeds of division. As Jesus is put on trial, we hear over and again on the lips of His accusers the claims of His blasphemy, how He breaks the Law of Moses, and lifts Himself up as God. But when do they speak of the thousands who were fed with a few loaves and fish? When do we hear of the many who found healing in body and spirit on account of His presence and prayers? When do they tell of how He brought others closer to God? We don’t. We don’t hear any of those things, because the accusers come against Jesus with only a part of the story – the part that makes Him out as a criminal, one opposed to the true faith of Judaism, as one deserving death. Rather than view the whole of Jesus’ life and ministry, they divide it up and bring forth the piece they want others to see. The Spirit of unity was not with them, but rather the spirit of division. And because of that, God was rejected by His own people, the innocent lamb was put to death.

If we listen to the media and the world around us, we hear so many voices speaking of division; divisions based on political ideals, race, culture, moral beliefs, age, class, even – and most regretfully – divisions in the Body of Christ, the Church. Rather than the seeking what can unite us and draw the good from everything, groups are pitted against one another and often by emphasizing only part of the picture. That division comes from one source, and one source only – the devil. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts by the grace of Baptism, but let us not forget that while He dwells in our hearts, the devil likes to make his dwelling in our ears to keep us from hearing the Spirit’s voice.

The unfortunate truth, though, is that too often we fall into rash judgment of another, we fall into gossip, we make assumptions and accusations, and highlight negative things about others. We let ourselves be content with half of the story, or emphasize the part that makes us feel better, and do this all at the expense of another in the same manner that the Jewish people told only part of the story of Jesus and end up creating more discord.

As we enter into this most holy of all weeks in the year, let us come before the Lord, who heals every division, and let His Precious Blood heal our hearts of the division that lies within them that we might indeed be the instrument of unity and truth that the Lord calls us to be. So we pray: Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ to heal those of our souls. Amen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

HWP: The Terror of Demons!

Yesterday was the Solemnity of St. Joseph and I pray that you took the opportunity to truly celebrate his feast in the midst of this Lenten season. As today is Wednesday and there is a wonderful tradition in the Church of honoring St. Joseph on Wednesdays, I figured why not continue to give praise to the Lord for the glories bestowed upon the Foster-Father of Jesus, Spouse of Mary, Patron of the Universal Church, and TERROR OF DEMONS!!! Yes, folks, that's right. Terror of Demons. That is one of the (awesome!) titles bestowed upon this humble servant of the Father. You can find out why HERE. As for us, we will stick with the prayer portion as we pray the...

Consecration to St. Joseph 

O Blessed Saint Joseph!
I consecrate myself to thy honor, and give myself to thee, 
that thou mayest be always my father, my protector, 
and my guide to the way of salvation.
Obtain for me a great purity of heart and a fervent love of the interior life.
After thy example, may I perform all my actions for the greater glory of God, 
in union with the Divine Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
And do thou, O Blessed Joseph, pray for me, 
that I may experience the peace and joy of thy holy death. 

Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation!
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you: save souls!
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you. 

With Saint Joseph as our help, we may confidently approach 
the Risen Lord Jesus Christ through Blessed Mary and realize 
that our humble efforts—poor as they are—will please our merciful God.
Saint Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Something New

Readings for Sunday, March 17/ 5th Sunday of Lent:
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126:1-6
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

Today the Lord says to us the Scriptures, “I am doing something new.” Indeed He is doing something new and He is inviting us to take part in it, and to in fact be the main focus of that newness. “Remember not the events of the past,” He says, “the things of long ago consider not…. I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.” Our Lord comes to invite us to drink of the water He has provided for us, but not a simple water as we can find all around us but rather the water of His Divine Mercy. Our Lord Jesus longs for us to drink deeply of that Mercy and to find true life. And as we cannot have life without the sustenance of literal water, so too are we unable to have real life without Mercy.

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us a brief testimony of that life, as he had begun to embody the calling of God to set aside the things of the past and look forward to the future, where there is life and fullness of grace. In the Gospel we see that touching account of what the encounter looks life.

As we draw near to Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday, next weekend, we hear in the Scriptures more about the scribes and Pharisees trying to catch Jesus in a trap to bring Him to His death. Today we hear yet another attempt and another supposedly perfect trap. They bring before the Lord a woman caught in adultery. A woman. So often in the Scriptures we hear names of people for specific events – Peter, Lazarus, Mary, etc. – but here it is simply ‘a woman’, a generic title that permits us all to place ourselves in the passage. It is no longer just a story about a person two thousand years ago; it is my story and yours. We are the woman.

The scribes and Pharisees, thirsty for the Blood of Christ to be shed, bring the woman in and set her in the midst of all the people, then frame the question to Jesus whether she should be stoned according to the Law or let free. To set her free was to break the Jewish Law and lose all credibility as a teacher. To have her stoned according to the Law was to break the Roman law and merit death. The trap has now been set and this poor woman has been used as a tool to get at Christ. They weren’t really concerned with her. But Christ was, and in escaping the trap, turns to make her the center of attention so that she might come to know His love for her.

When they first question the Lord, he simply bends down and begins to draw in the dirt. Hoping to spring the trap soon, they continue to press on Him to answer. So he stands to respond: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And one by one, beginning with the elders they leave. The little detail included by St. John – that the elders left first – shows us the wisdom of the elders in that they knew they could not feign innocence, but were indeed sinners. And while some might have thought themselves sinless, they surely couldn’t say so since those more righteous than they had walked away. With the words of Jesus, the accusers became the accused and rather than the woman being on trial, they each found themselves on trial. They had become the woman in the center and walked away in shame.

Still the Lord draws quietly in the dirt, until they have all left. He waits patiently because He knows what is soon to take place in the heart of this woman standing before Him and wants to draw her into that personal relationship with Him and the Father. He rises and looks around to find that He is alone and simply inquires, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With this the woman could have responded “Why? What have I done wrong?” or “Why condemn just me? Why not the man I was with?” or “Why does it matter? It’s not that serious an act.” So often these are the things that happen within our hearts when we are faced with our sinfulness. We get defensive and look everywhere but the loving eyes of Jesus. But she didn’t. She simply responds, “No one” and in those words she admits her guilt. She knows that she had sinned greatly and deserved death according to the Mosaic Law. And the Lord looks lovingly at her and says simply, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Just as she recognized her sin, Jesus also did. He knew the cost that he would soon have to pay to forgive her sins. I suspect that as He was there quietly drawing in the dirt that this thought was consuming His thoughts and the knowledge of her sin was already at that moment causing pain in His priestly and paternal heart. For that reason, when He responds, He doesn’t say “It’s not a big deal” or “You’re free to go and continue to live as you wish.” Quite the opposite, He forgives her sin but then challenges her to live in the future what she should have done in the past. As she goes away, she does so with freedom and life, having been sustained by the outpouring of the Divine Mercy of Jesus.

As I spoke about the value of this anonymous woman helping us to enter into the Gospel, the reality is much deeper than that. Rather than just a reflection on this encounter, Jesus Christ has given us the opportunity through the Church to have this exact same encounter in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. When we step into a confessional, we see the priest before us, but the invisible reality we cannot see is that it is actually Jesus working through that priest to enable this encounter with Divine Mercy. It is Jesus there before us Who forgives our sins, and sends us away free and full of life once more. “Neither do I condemn you” becomes “I absolve you from your sins…” and we are sent away in peace, filled with God’s grace to help us to sin no more.

My brothers and sisters in the Lord, Jesus wants to do something new in our hearts. He wants to come to us in that personal encounter like the woman in the Gospel that we might be freed from our sins and given the Mercy of God that gives true life. Whether it’s been a week, a month, a year, ten years, or more, the Lord is inviting you again today to drink of His Mercy. Whatever fear might be in your heart, cast it out. If you think it’s been too long, if you think your sins are too big, if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, whatever might be keeping you from having that encounter with Jesus, cast it out and come to experience the joy that Christ seeks to bestow upon you. Let us not be afraid, but rather draw closer to Jesus. Let us drink deeply of His Mercy and allow Him to say in our hearts today “I am doing something new.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

HWP: Litany of Humility

The past few days have been a bit hectic for my brain (not necessarily for my body) and so I just forgot about making sure to post something ahead of time for the HWP for today...but being that the Lord has blessed us with a humble servant in Pope Francis, why not pray a prayer for humility!?

This prayer can seem a bit over-the-top if taken out of context but understood properly it is a powerful and beautiful prayer to have fulfilled in our flesh. May the Lord grant us the grace to see it come to fruition! So, without further ado:

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
that others may be praised and I unnoticed, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, 
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our View and His

Samuel anointing David King
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

***Readings are from Cycle A for the Scrutiny***

Some of you may be confused a little bit today at the color of my vestments, thinking that I apparently missed the memo that the color for Lent is Violet. The reason I am wearing these rose-colored vestments is that today is Laetare Sunday. The word ‘Laetare’ means ‘rejoice’ and is the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for today’s Mass: Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all you who love her! On this day the Church invites us to rejoice in the Lord because we are halfway through the Lenten season. We come today and give thanks to the Lord for the graces poured out so generously upon us thus far, and we implore that continuous outpouring as we look forward to the solemn celebration to come in the Triduum and Easter, as our Collect so beautifully reminded us. And so we come with rejoicing in our hearts this day.

Another reason that we must come with rejoicing is because in just a few days we will hopefully have a new Pope. Each time I pray the Eucharistic Prayer and have to skip the name of the pope since we the Holy See is vacant I feel a sort of emptiness in my heart because I long to have a spiritual father in the person of Christ to help guide and direct me and all of us toward heaven. So, the fact that we will soon have a Holy Father again is another great reason to rejoice this day.

In light of that reality of Pope Benedict XVI resigning from the See of Peter and all of the questions about where the Church is going with the next pope, I have been hearing over and over the question ‘why?’ Secular and Catholic news sources alike have been filled with all sorts of questions around the events of the past month. As I was reflecting on our constant refrain of ‘why’ I began to contemplate how much we can do that in the midst of our lives. I don’t know about you, but often have I asked the question ‘why?’ when I was enduring some sort of trial. Too, I have experienced that ‘why?’ arise when someone receives a blessing when I thought they deserved otherwise, maybe because they had been so blessed already, or maybe someone else deserved it more. The lingering question of ‘why?’ would always be in the midst. The Scriptures today invite us to move beyond that.

The Lord spoke powerfully to Samuel in our first reading, reminding us that “not as man see does God see”. Man sees the appearances, the Lord says. We get caught up in what we can see, but the problem is that what we see is colored by our own personal experience. We each come from different places – are different ages, have differing life experiences, etc. – so we will necessarily see things differently and sometimes fail to see things at all. The challenge is to move from this limited point of view toward God’s expansive point of view. Rather than be limited by a particular place, time or perspective, God sees the whole picture at once. He sees centuries in the blink of an eye and yet is attentive to everything that goes on in the midst of our days.

We see this difference in views in the readings today. Samuel and Jesse both have their own views – they look to all of the other sons as possible candidates for Kingship but leave out David; surely he couldn’t be the king, he tends the sheep! And yet in the eyes of God, it was David all along who was the chosen one. Samuel and Jesse had to move from their view to Gods, and when they did, they were able to rejoice in the anointing of David.

We see something similar in the Gospel. The Lord is walking along with the Twelve and as they pass the man born blind, the disciples ask who sinned. This is because the Jewish concept is that if one was suffering it was because they had done something to deserve that suffering. So for the man to be born blind meant, in their mind, that he had done something wrong or his parents had. But when Jesus answers that neither he nor his parents sinned, the disciples were surely confused. That didn’t make sense. The Lord goes on to show the bigger picture: he was blind “so that the words of God might be made visible through him.” It wasn’t that he had done anything wrong, but rather that God wanted to manifest his power through this man. Where the people in the world saw abandonment by God, the Lord saw a beloved one through whom He could change hearts.

Healing of the Blind Man by Brian Jekel
Coming back around to the starting point, we often are filled with the question ‘why?’ in the midst of our trials or blessings, as well as those of others. But rather than be filled with a frustrated ‘why?’ the Lord invites us to understand that while we cannot see the big picture, He can and is indeed working for our good and the good of others. This should be a source of great consolation for us because all of us in our own way are experiencing some sort of blindness like the man in the gospel, and we can be assured that even the difficulties in our life are places where God can and will work, both for our good, as well as the good of others. There is nothing that happens in this life that God cannot bring some good out of. The most terrible of events, the crucifixion of Christ on the Lord – where we literally killed God in the Flesh – was even transformed to the place of our salvation. How much more can we do if we simply let Him into our hearts to place His hands on us there.

This is the most beautiful part of the story today – that Christ was so close to the blind man in his transformation. He placed His hands upon him and surely embraced Him later after his healing and transformation. In just a few moments we will celebrate the next Scrutiny for our Candidates for Full Communion and I will come to each of them and lay hands upon them just as the Lord did with the blind man. This will be a special sign to each of them that Jesus Christ is coming to them to continue to heal their blindness and bring them fully into the light, but it is also a sign to all of us that Christ is always here with us, within His arms’ reach, waiting for us to receive the healing we need and He desires. So let us receive that healing today that by His grace we might come to always see things in His light, and not in ours.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

HWP: Country Prayer for Lent

I don't know how your Lent has been going, but the Lord has been doing some wonderful things in my heart during these days. His mercy, power, and generosity have been as a constant refrain throughout this season. For that reason I was struck by this prayer which speaks of that Divine generosity. Enjoy!

Country Prayer for Lent

Dear Lord, we are now in the holy season of Lent. We begin to realize anew that these are the days of salvation, these are the acceptable days. We know that we are all sinners. We know that in many things we have all offended Your infinite majesty. We know that sin destroys Your life in us as a drought withers the leaves and chokes the life from the land, leaving an arid, dusty desert. Help us now, Lord, in our feeble attempts to make up for past sin. Bless our efforts with the rich blessing of Your grace. Make us realize ever more our need of penance and of mortification. Help us to see, in our ordinary difficulties and duties, in the trials and temptations of every day, the best opportunity of making up for past infidelities. Every day we are so often reminded in field and wood, in sky and stream, of Your own boundless generosity to us. Help us to realize that You are never outdone in generosity, and that the least thing we do for You will be rewarded, full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and flowing over. Then we shall see, in our own souls, how the desert can blossom, and the dry and wasted land can bring forth the rich, useful fruit that was expected of it from the beginning. Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Orchards and Promises

A barren fig tree
Readings for Sunday, March 3/ 3rd Sunday of Lent:
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15
Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
Luke 13:1-9

When we began the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, we came forward and as the cross was marked on our forehead we each heard the invitation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The whole season of Lent is about this one message, repentance; turning away from sin and allowing our hearts to be purified by the Lord to live the Gospel more perfectly in our daily lives. Today in the scriptures the Lord speaks once more of this call to repentance and shows us the results if we fail to heed it.

In the first reading we are reminded of the great Old Testament figure of Moses, who comes into contact with the Lord at the burning bush. God reveals His name to Moses, thus forming a unique relationship with the Israelite people, and assures him that He has heard the prayers of the people to be freed from their slavery in Egypt. Soon, the Lord promises, they would be led out of that land and brought to the Promised Land, a land of great prosperity and life, symbolically described as ‘flowing with milk and honey’. This was great news for Moses and the Israelite community and with joy they set out to enter this Promised Land. But, as St. Paul reveals to us in his letter to the Corinthians, the people of Israel were struck down in the desert because they failed to truly repent from their sins. Rather than trusting in the Lord and following wholeheartedly, they doubted, challenged, and even went against the Lord. For this they were kept out of the Promised Land; they didn’t receive the promised inheritance they longed for in being set free from slavery.

St. Paul pointed out in his letter that it is for us to learn from the mistakes of the Israelites and show true repentance. He says this because, like the Israelites over 3000 years ago, we too have a Promised Land awaiting us. All throughout the New Testament Jesus is shown doing various things and travelling to a whole litany of locations and all of this is for a purpose. As He travels and acts, He is constantly fulfilling the stories begun so many years ago. He is the New Adam, the New Noah, the New Abraham, the New Isaac, and many others. For our reflection today, it is important to see that He comes as the New Moses – the one who has come to set us free not from earthly slavery but slavery to sin, that we might enter into a Promised Land not here on earth but one in the heavenly home of the Most Blessed Trinity. And just as we know that many of the Israelites failed to enter the earthly Promised Land, the Lord reminds us that just because we’ve been set free from sin doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed entry. We have to show that we want to remain with Him for eternity. This is the why He uses the image of the barren fig tree.

The parable of the fig tree that the Lord explains is nothing other than the story of our lives. The orchard is the Promised Land, the owner is the Father, we are the trees. To be clear right off the bat, not a single one of us deserves the Promised Land – every one of us, because we have sinned many times over, deserves not heaven but hell. We are like that fig tree that doesn’t bear any fruit and should be cut down and cast out of that place into the darkness. But thanks to the caring gardener, the Lord Jesus, we are spared for a time. His hope in us in incredible – having seen our fruitlessness for so long, He still has hope that we can be converted and bear good fruit. And so He comes to us to fertilize our souls and this He does by pouring out on us His abundance grace. He fills us with His very life through the Eucharist and Reconciliation. He speaks to us through the scriptures. He shows Himself to us as we go out to serve others, finding Him in them and even in ourselves. These and so many ways are the manners in which Christ gives Himself in hopes that we might begin to bear fruit of repentance, holiness, virtue, and good works. This is what He wants of us and this is what we should want for ourselves. To produce fruit not only means that we can remain in the orchard, but also that we give joy to the gardener and owner.

My brothers and sisters, we were created to be in Heaven, but the fact is that by so many of our actions – or lack of action – we show the Lord that we are more concerned with ourselves than we are with Him. The gates of Heaven have been opened for us and the Promised Land awaits – the question for each of us today is are we willing to actually turn away from sin and live such that we can enter into the glory that awaits us or are we content to remain forever on the outside of the heavenly orchard?