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 Feast of Saints Philip and James

When I go out to a restaurant, one of the first things I do is order my food and maybe a beverage. To do this, I could shout my order to kitchen, but it’s much more effective to have the waiter or waitress bring it there for me. Since I don’t like shouting in the middle of restaurants and I like my order to stand a chance of getting cooked, I give my order to a cashier, a waiter, or a waitress. This person takes my request to the kitchen, where another person cooks my food. After my food is cooked, someone will either hand it to me or bring it to me. Often, this is the person with whom I placed my order.

Intercession from the saints functions very similar to this. We begin by saying a prayer, during which we ask for a specific saint to assist us. God will ultimately fulfill our prayer, but the saint has a different mode of access to God. The saints take our prayers and make them more pleasing and acceptable to God, then they present them to him on our behalf. God then responds to our prayer in the most fitting way, often returning his response with the saintly messenger who brought the request to him.

The Gospel today confirms this way of understanding intercession. Jesus is the intercessor for humanity. Only through Jesus will we be able to reach the Father. Even the saints must ask for Jesus to present their prayers to the Father, as no one can go to the Father except through Jesus. Philip had difficulty recognizing this reality. His desire to see the Father was good, but he did not realize that the road to the Father was standing right in front of him. Despite all the miracles that Jesus had done, and all the wisdom that Jesus had taught, Philip still couldn’t connect the dots.

Both Philip and James struggled, at times, to understand the meaning of all the signs and wonders that God worked—even those that God worked through them. Eventually, they figured it out and told everyone around them by spreading the Gospel message: Jesus will lead us to the Father and, God-willing, to our eternal reward, because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. After Philip and James figured it out, amazing things happened. Philip cast out demons and healed the sick. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem and wrote one of the letters of the New Testament. Both were martyred for their faith, but they were happy to do so, because they had put their trust in Jesus to take them with him to the Father, even in death.

Let us all remember that Jesus is the way to the Father, and if we are having a difficult time understanding that Jesus is the way, let us ask the saints to help us in ways we cannot help ourselves.

Today’s Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Ps 19:2-3, 4-5; Jn 14:6-14

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.

By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.

Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.

Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.

To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.

When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.

The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.

Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.

Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.

On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Today’s Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Today begins the great season of Lent.

Lent is a time for us to focus on changing our lives for the better. Everything in the Mass, the readings, the antiphons, the ashes, remind us of this today.

The entrance antiphon comes from the book of Wisdom (11:24, 25, 27) and reminds us that the Lord is merciful, and proceeds to beg the Lord to be merciful and overlook the sins of his people. We ask that he does this in order that we might repent. In the first reading prophet Joel calls for us to return the Lord with our whole heart: with fasting, weeping, and mourning. He begs the Lord to have mercy on his people, and to relent in the punishment they deserve. The psalm asks the Lord to create in us clean hearts and steadfast spirits, so that we might proclaim his praise. St. Paul asks us in the second reading to become ambassadors for Christ by becoming reconciled with God. Now is the day of salvation, Paul says, God hears us now, so we need to ask now! The Alleluia is no longer sung during lent—this reminds us that we must focus on repentance during this time of year, and the verse before the Gospel today reminds us not to harden our hearts when we hear the voice of God.

The Gospel today is the crown jewel of all the readings for the day. Jesus tells us how to convert our lives to better follow him. We should give alms, but not in a way that we receive praise for them. Deeds done to be seen are their own reward. This teaches us charity and humility. We must pray, but again not to be seen. Furthermore, he tells us to go within our inner room, close the door, and pray to God in secret! This does not mean we must hide when we pray. This means that we must go within ourselves, close ourselves to the outside world, and focus on God alone, telling him all the things in our heart, and then being silent and listening for his reply that he may whisper to us in the stillness of our hearts. Finally, Jesus reminds us to fast. Again, not to be seen. In fact, Jesus tells us we should do our best to be cheerful and upbeat when we fast! This is hard! I get hangry, so it’s actually a really hard thing for me to do. But it teaches me to have patience, to love others more, and to control myself better. It is truly incredible what fasting can teach a person.

After the Gospel, we see the ashes. Catholicism is a religion that embraces the whole person—body and soul. Because of this, we use sensible things to remind us of the hidden realities. Ashes bring to mind many things. When something burns, it is consumed and turned into ash. This can be a good thing, where something bad is destroyed and turned into something new. This can also be a great challenge, where something good is destroyed and all that remains is ash. In the Bible, ashes often symbolize extreme penance after wrongdoing. The Church uses all of these ideas and more on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we try to purify our lives, removing the bad things and doing penance so that we may become better people. Sometimes this results in us having to change some things that weren’t necessarily bad, but that we enjoyed. It is a challenge.

Ashes are a symbol for one more incredibly important idea. It is abundantly clear in the second formula for the distribution of the ashes. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words are harrowing. They cut deep. And they can cause fear. “I am dust? I shall return to dust? What?” We humans live fleeting lives. We cannot forget that we live short lives, and when we die our body returns to the Earth. Until the General Resurrection at the end of time, when we our reunited with our glorified bodies, only our soul remains. In the Psalms and the Wisdom books, we are often reminded of our fleeting lifespans and that we return to the earth. In the Gospels, we are reminded that we are like grain at the grind stone. The good—the results of our good deeds—remains, but the chaff—the unusable part of the grain, the results of our evil deeds—is cast to the floor and eventually burned. If we are all chaff, what will remain of us?

The communion antiphon leaves us on a more uplifting note. “He who ponders the law of the Lord day and night will yield fruit in due season.” (Ps 1:2-3) In this quote from the first Psalm, the Church is showing us that there is hope! After the hard work of Lent, we will bear much fruit during Easter. We will have become better, happier, more loving, more virtuous people. When we ponder the law of the Lord, we end up pondering the Lawgiver. We end up pondering God. This is prayer.

Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer. These are the three pillars by which we may re-form our lives during Lent. They help us to become a new creation, to love God more, and to truly orient ourselves to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Reflection for the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Is 49:14-15; Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

We can have only one master. Who is our master? God wants to be our master, but do we let him?

The Gospel today lists many other masters people can have throughout their daily lives: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. All these things come from the material world. They are things that we think that we can control. We go about thinking that clothing, food, status, wealth are the most important things. They aren’t. Is it important to have adequate food, clothing and money? Yes. But when it becomes the focus of our lives—that’s when we run into problems. Why do we think that these things are important? Perhaps we think that because we can control these things, they are a measure of our self-worth. When we have these things, maybe we think that it shows what kind of job or career that we have: another modern measure of self-worth.

What about other people? Do we try to emulate the right people? Do we want to be like the rich and famous? Why is that life style so attractive? The rich and famous always look happy on the outside, but are they? I think not. The number of celebrity divorces, suicides, and the general malaise around Hollywood is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. But they have everything—why aren’t they happy? They have made power or fame or money or pleasure into their master. And if we want to emulate them, then we will do the same. And we will be unhappy.

There is a better way.

DaisiesJesus reminds us to look outside at the world around us. The flowers—what person is clothed so beautifully as a flower? The birds—are they not able to find food? But we worry about all of these things, and we don’t realize that God will work with us to make sure that we have what we need. Jesus asks, “Are not you more important than they?” Indeed, we are. Jesus promises us that if we seek the Kingdom of God, all that we need will be provided. The Lord has not forgotten us, and he never will. The first reading, in just a few sentences tells us that this is impossible!

“Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Is 49:14-15)

The Lord wants to love us, but to do this we must be open to this love. By serving the Lord, we are opening ourselves to his love, because we only truly serve those that we love. We may have a job where we “wait on” or “serve” somebody, but we aren’t really serving those people because we desire to do so. We are serving them for the sake of something else—to provide for ourselves or our families. By following the Lord’s commands and laws, we serve him. By stewarding the gifts that God has given us, we are serving him. God knows when we are serving him and when we are not, St. Paul reminds us that “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” We cannot trick God, but we can serve him. We can serve him because we desire to love him. When we serve him, we open our hearts to him and allow him to love us.

So let us remember we can only have one true master: God. But he is a loving master, who rewards us endlessly when we serve him.

Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Humility.

What a virtue!

Without humility, we are like tyrants. Without humility, we cannot truly listen to others. Without humility, we cannot endure suffering. Without humility, we cannot grow to be the man or woman who God created us to be. The readings today show us the need for humility.

The first reading tells us not to bear hatred for our brothers and sisters, to take no revenge and hold no grudge, to not incur sin even if we might need to correct them. Without humility, we cannot do this! The golden rule, formulated here in Leviticus as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a call to humility. This is a challenging command! When I make a mistake, sometimes I am able to realize it, but many times I don’t even realize when I have done it. If I knew about it, I would try my best to correct it. In these cases, the only way that I can grow is for someone to offer me correction. That is why correcting a brother or a sister in Christ is an act of charity!

But without humility, this can become the act of a tyrant. Humility helps us to recognize that we all make mistakes. We all have faults. When someone corrects us, we desire for them to do it out of care and love. When someone corrects me out of anger, spite or a desire for power I can feel it. I do not wish that feeling on others. It is painful! It is hurtful! When we have humility, we can recognize our faults—or at least that we have faults—, and we allow ourselves to be corrected and to correct others in charity and kindness.

As I mentioned, humility allows us to truly hear others. Without humility, we may be tempted to assume that we our always right, and that others are the ones who need to change. Whenever I am driving, I know that I am the best driver on the road. If something doesn’t go my way when I’m driving, it’s never because I made a mistake. It’s the other guy, who obviously never learned how to drive and wants to cause a wreck. Humility, by helping open us to correction, helps us to recognize that maybe, perhaps, I was wrong. Maybe the reason people keep brake-checking me and giving me the “single-finger peace sign” is because I did something wrong while driving. Maybe I should listen when my friend tells me that texting while driving is bad, and that, really, 20 over the speed limit is a bad plan.

Humility helps us to be open to the input of other people in our lives. Paul reminds the Corinthians today that they must be open to others: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool.” The wise one is the person with all the answers. When we think we have all the answers, we are not open to others.

Finally, without humility we cannot fully accept the gift of suffering. Suffering is not fun, and we should not seek it out for its own sake. But, when suffering is inflicted on us we have to deal with it. How we deal with it makes all the difference. Saint John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter called Salvifici Doloris where he searches for the meaning of suffering. Ultimately, however, why God allows suffering remains a mystery to us. This, in itself, is an experience of humility. We are called to recognize that we cannot and will not know everything in this life.

But we are not left alone in this struggle. We are not alone in seeking humility. God himself gave us the ultimate example of humility by suffering and dying on the cross. God become a human being. Think about this for a moment. The all-powerful and all-knowing God became a weak and defenseless baby, and then allowed other men to kill him. Nobody understood what God was trying to teach us until the Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. God was teaching us that there is life after death—death has no power over us! But we must have the humility to accept that we will not always understand.

The Flagellation of Christ

We also learn humility through suffering because we often need the help of others to endure our suffering. We depend on others emotionally or physically. We are forced to exit ourselves and become a part of the larger community. The best way in which we can do this is by joining our suffering to Jesus Christ Crucified. The Crucifixion was grotesque, and in addition to the physical suffering, the spiritual and emotional suffering Jesus must have been immense. My most intense experience of suffering and pain was not due to a physical torment, but from emotions. Something had occurred which did not initially seem like a big deal at first, but I felt a betrayed. I did not even realize that this feeling was growing and growing inside of me until it completely overwhelmed me a few days later. I could not focus on anything, and I was very distraught. People who knew me could tell that something was very wrong. After a couple of days, I was finally able to bring it to prayer. I asked God to help me understand what he is trying to teach me, and I did my best to offer it up to him—but this is easier said than done. Eventually, God allowed me recognize that what had occurred was ultimately for my good. It still hurt, but it changed me. For the better.

 Icon of the ResurrectionWhen we suffer we can join our suffering to Christ’s suffering, and offer it for the salvation of souls—including our own—and the redemption of mankind. In a way, suffering makes us co-workers with Jesus on the Cross in a very special and unique way. Today’s Gospel doesn’t call for us to be crucified—not here at least, but it does call us to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. These aren’t fun, and they often involve a little suffering. But these small experiences of suffering prepare us for the road ahead. They teach us the humility we need for the big suffering that will inevitably come to most of us.

Humility is fundamental to the Christian way of life. It can get us through our suffering. It can help us listen. It can help us be kind and compassionate in dealing with others.

Humility.

What a virtue!