Reflection for September 11, 2017: The Question

Sixteen years ago, men flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. More men failed to reach their target when heroic men and women rebelled against their hijackers. What would bring people to commit such an evil action? How could anyone think that crashing planes full of people into buildings full of people was an OK thing to do? They, like the Pharisees, were following a law that they believed to be from God. They believed that because their imam declared a holy war, they could commit atrocities. The laws of Islam, as the terrorists understood it, permitted this.1

Today Jesus asks all of us, “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

A new person shows up at the parish. They aren’t dressed well, and are acting strangely, but seem to want to talk to someone. Mass starts in 2 minutes, and I don’t really have time to talk, so I find something to do so that I look busy.

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?

I meet some friends for lunch. After the usual pleasantries, we begin discussing what is happening in the neighborhood. It turns into gossip about all the people I don’t like.

How do my actions save life, rather than destroy it?

We do not know the day nor the hour that God will call us to himself. As we mourn the loss of life on and after September 11, let it be a reminder for us to remain ever vigilant about the state of our own souls.

Today’s Readings:
Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
Col 1:24–2:3; Ps 62:6-7, 9; Lk 6:6-11

Brief Reflection on the Fifteenth Wednesday

In Exodus today, we heard the story of the burning bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. This seeming contradiction is fascinating. Why was the bush on fire, and how was it not consumed?

In a very real way, the burning bush is a symbol of our souls. When God is present within our souls, when we allow Him to love us and work through us, our souls are lit afire with His presence much as the burning bush was. God, however, will never hurt us. He will not allow us to “fizzle out,” or going back to the burning bush: He will not allow us to be fully consumed.

Let us strive to live in the presence of God, so that he may light us on fire with his love.

Today’s Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12; Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 6-7; Mt 11:25-27

Reflection for the Tenth Thursday of Ordinary Time

In the Gospel today, Jesus warns us that we must make peace with our opponents before we bring our gifts to the altar. He tells us that while we are on the journey, we must settle with our opponent. If we do not, we will be thrown into jail until the full debt is repaid.

Our lives are a journey, during which we grow in our ability to love. St. Paul tells us that there is neither faith nor hope in Heaven: we can see God, therefore we do not need either; however, love remains. If we do not always work to grow in our capacity to love during our time on Earth, then in Heaven we will not reach the heights God planned for us.

On this journey, we have a traveling companion: God. God is always with us. Sadly, through original sin and our own sins, we have turned God into our opponent. He always loves us, and he always desires to be with us; however, we have turned him into an enemy in our minds. God is the one with whom we must settle. If we do not, and we reach the end of our earthly existence seeing God as our opponent, we will be handed to the judge. This judge—Jesus told us that the Father has given him this authority—will separate those going to Heaven, and those going to “fiery Gahenna.”

The full debt, however, must be repaid if we have made God into our opponent. The Gospel says that we will be handed over to the guard until this occurs. For those going to hell, this can never be repaid, as those going to hell have made God into their enemy forever. Those going to Heaven, however, have only partially made God their enemy. They have struggled to reconcile with God, but have done so imperfectly. This passage may also refer to the time spent in purgatory, where the soul is cleansed before it enters into eternal bliss with God.

This passage, ultimately, reminds us of our need to receive the sacrament of confession regularly. God has given us an easy way to reconcile ourselves with him. Confession may not be fun, because we have to admit we were wrong and that is often painful, but it reconciles us with God. It is how we can be sure we’ve reconciled with God. Sadly, our human condition will cause us to need this sacrament over and over again, but God will give it to us with great joy. God desires to give us mercy. As the scriptures tell us, God and his Angels rejoice greatly in Heaven over one repentant sinner.

Today’s Readings: 2 Cor 3:15-4:1, 3-6; Ps 85:9ab & 10, 11-12, 13-14; Mt 5:20-26

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Reflection for the Visitation of Mary

This year, the Visitation sits right in the middle of two great feasts: the Ascension and the Pentecost. At first, this seemed like an interesting coincidence, but not much more. After all, what does Mary visiting Elizabeth have to do with the Ascension, when Jesus raises himself into Heaven? What could it possibly have to do with the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes? After some reflection, however, I realized that there is no more fitting place for the Visitation to end up in the calendar.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The first thing to look at is the symbolism in this sentence. Jesus was lifted up. He is no longer confined to the Earth. He is above the Earth. Furthermore, he was lifted up of his own power. The last time he had had been lifted up was on the Cross. He had been nailed to the Cross, and hung there, still attached to the Earth. At the Ascension, he triumphs over the Cross definitively, being lifted up. The cloud which took him from the sight of the apostles was, undoubtedly, no ordinary cloud. Think of all the other times we see clouds in the Bible. The cloud on Mt. Sinai, the Cloud of Presence that led the Jewish people through the desert, the Cloud of Presence in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Cloud of the Father who proclaims that he is pleased with Jesus. Clouds stand for the Heavenly Kingdom in the Bible. Jesus didn’t fade out of sight and become a wispy cloud, he disappeared because he fully entered into the Heavenly Kingdom.

At the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rushes upon all those present. The Holy Spirit was breathed into us by the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit acts throughout the world, and especially through the church of Jesus Christ—the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded at the Pentecost. Baptism and Confirmation conform us to God in a new way, and allow the Holy Spirit to act more fully within us. These two sacraments open the doors of our souls to all of the graces and gifts that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us. These Sacraments are truly necessary for our spiritual well-being. St. Paul tells us that, “[t]o each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor 12:7) These gifts, these graces, are for our benefit, namely so that we may reach Heaven.

So what does Mary’s visit to Elizabeth have to do with either of these?

Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, we are often tempted to think that the apostles were dormant, that they did nothing. But that is not true. When a woman is the early stages of pregnancy, nothing appears to be happening within her; however, there is a new life growing! Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, this is what was occurring with the apostles. They were processing and coming to understand all the good that Jesus had worked, and everything that was going on inside of their hearts. Even more importantly, Peter and the apostles recognized that Judas must be replaced and elected Matthias. This recognition was crucial in many ways to the growth of the embryonic church. They recognized that they were chosen not simply as individuals, but as officials. The apostles had recognized that this work must continue to go on after them. Once they had realized their status as officials (think of something like an elected administrator in the Kingdom of God) and their need for a plan of succession, they were ready for the Holy Spirit to come.

The Visitation reminds us that Jesus grew inside of Mary, in the same way that each of us do. He developed in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for him to be born. Celebrating it in between the Ascension and the Pentecost reminds us that Jesus’s Church, similarly, had to grow in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for the Church to come alive. Finally, we must take notice that just as Mary was present through Jesus’s birth, she was also present when his Church came truly alive at Pentecost.

Today, let us remember that Mary will always accompany us to her Son, just as she accompanied her Son into the world. Let us ask her to prepare our hearts to fully receive Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18A; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; Luke 1:39-56

Reflection for the Sixth Wednesday of Easter

I’ve always liked this section of the Acts of the Apostles, because it gives us such a good template for how to engage those in the culture around us. Paul sees that the Athenians have many altars to various deities, including one for an unknown god. He takes this as a starting point for his preaching, and I think it is a truly brilliant. The Athenians recognize that there is something missing, that they do not know. Paul tells them that he knows what this missing thing is: it is God.

This God, Paul preaches, created all things and rules all things, but that is not all. This God lives in us, and he created humanity in his own image. This God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ and has ushered in a time for repentance, so that we may turn to him and know him and love him. This Jesus will “judge the world with justice,” so we must get busy with our work of conforming our lives to God.

The Athenians are listening intently to Paul until the very last line in his preaching, where he tells them that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That is too much for them. Some were straightforward in their disbelief, scoffing. Others said, “let’s talk about this later.” Paul recognized that he would make no progress and left.

It is fascinating to me how well this depicts modern engagement with the culture. The culture is in dire need of something meaningful. People will even listen to religion to try and fill the hole, but there is always some point where they decide, “nope, too much.” It is often the moral standards inherent in religion, but even now—2000 years later—the Resurrection is a point of difficulty for many. Even Christians don’t really know what the Resurrection means, and some—if pressed—don’t truly believe that it happened.

Paul wasn’t discouraged by this. He took those who followed him, and moved on to the next town. In our efforts to be lights to the world, we must do the same. When someone truly wants to know and love God, we should help them. When they brush us off, we must not be discouraged. No, we must take heart and move to the next person, continuing to live the true Christian life.

Today’s Readings: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1; Ps 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Jn 16:12-15

New assignment

I begin my summer work assignment today, and as a result, I will not be able to post as often. I will still try to post several times a week, but I ask for your patience as I settle in to the new schedule for the next few weeks.

Reflection for the Fourth Friday of Easter

Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, to place our faith in him. St. Paul is a prime example of someone living in this way. Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but his dramatic conversion changed everything. He immediately started preaching Jesus Christ to all around him. While he dedicated several years to living the Christian life before going on his missionary journeys, it was obvious from the beginning that Paul put his faith in God in all of his teaching, preaching, and living.

One instance of this can be found in Acts 13, from which we have been reading in the first reading for a few days. Paul is at a synagogue. After the law and prophets are proclaimed, the synagogue officials ask if anyone would like to say a word. Paul, who was likely the finest student of the best teacher of Jewish scripture, got up and, most likely, surprised everybody. He preached of how Jesus fulfilled everything in scripture, noting especially his fulfillment of God’s covenant with David through one of David’s descendants. Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to preach about exactly what the Jews in Jerusalem did to this man who was the Anointed One, the Chosen One: they crucified him on false charges. Then Paul told them the most incredible thing: he rose from the dead and saved all of us from death. By raising up Jesus, God fulfilled all the promises to the fathers. Through Jesus, God forgives the sins of all humanity. This Jesus is a man worthy of our faith.

Jesus teaches us that there is room for everyone in the house of His Father. When we put our faith in Jesus and live according to the way of life he taught us, he welcomes us into the house of the Father. Jesus Himself will prepare a place for us within the house, and all we must do is follow him, because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” who leads us to the Father.

Let us strive to follow the way of life that Jesus taught us, so that we too might be welcomed into Heaven: the House of the Father

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:26-33; Ps 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab; Jn 14:1-6

Reflection for the Fourth Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Fourth Wednesday of Easter

Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.

I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.

The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?

I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.

Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.

The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)

When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)

Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.

Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50